Photographers highlight grandmothers across America

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two Michigan-based photographers are on a mission to share words of wisdom from grandmothers across the country. 

Grand Rapids-based photographer Joey Schultz and Detroit-based photographer John Hanson met years ago through the West Michigan music scene.  

“Joey and I had been friends for several years, through the music community, and both shared this love for photography and Joey presented this idea to me, this concept of photographing grandmothers just simply based on, you know, what’s the most valuable image that we could take? And when asking that question, Joey was like, ‘Oh, it’s my grandmother’s. That’s it. That’s the most powerful image that I could take,” Hanson said. 

Schultz then shared an idea of creating a portrait collection; a book of just grandmothers coupled with their advice. 

“I just felt the same way that how powerful that would be and important that would be,” Hanson said. 

“I really wanted to capture the diversity of America,” Schultz explained. “The only way to really do that is to drive around the whole country.”

In June 2017, the two hit the road, traveling for several weeks at a time in search of grandma’s.

“We got really good at knowing where grandmas were. We called it ‘grandar.’ We just knocked on doors and asked people if they knew a grandmother, if they were a grandmother, or where’s the coolest grandma around and what house are they in?” Schultz said. 

Over the span of about five years, Schultz and Hanson traveled the country, state by state, and photographed more than 260 grandmothers. To every grandmother, they asked the same question: “What advice would you give your younger self?”

For many, the answer to that question brought a lot of emotion. From barrios to reservations, Schultz and Hanson said they learned more about the importance of culture and the history of the U.S. than they ever imagined they would. 

“This country is filled with so many different cultures, and so many different perspectives, which is, which makes it so powerful and so amazing,” Schultz said. 

“There were a lot of moments of tears with grandmothers that, you know, they are telling us, some of them haven’t been hugged, had a hug, in you know, months, or who knows how long, or just had people interested in what they had to say,” Hanson said. “Just the act of us listening and paying attention, and, you know, wanting to take their photo and honor what they have to say, made a big impact.”

The men are raising funds to release a book called “Grandmothers Of America” which will feature 200 portraits of grandmas all across the country. They said the main inspiration for the project is the gratitude and love they both share for their own grandmothers and that they see the power and importance of a grandmother’s wisdom and want to share it on a larger scale for younger generations. 

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