Almost everything I remember clearly about the past has to do with a person, often with a face.

These days, granddaughter Lydia is teaching me about the early origins of love for the human face. Below is 29 seconds of a typical interaction with her at ten weeks of age.

She is alert and curious, but something special happens when her eyes lock onto mine.

The impulse to record moments like the above and to try to capture something unique, yet universal, about another person unites those of us with a calling to teach, make art, and document life stories, such as this one.

As I sit here on a Wednesday morning, three levels above Penn Avenue, waiting for Lydia to arrive, I am musing about faces and why I love portraits so much. I’m influenced by our recent family vacation where we got to watch an expert photographer at work.

Note every face. Can you tell that black flies were biting us? The photographer took them away electronically, but we felt their bites all evening. Can you tell who was itching to get away from them? :-)

Note every face. Can you tell that black flies were biting us? The photographer took them away electronically, but we felt their bites all evening. Can you tell who was itching to get away from them? 🙂 Photos by Kelly Sea Images.

T or F: The two looking at each other make this portrait of the whole more interesting.

T or F: The two looking at each other make this portrait of the whole more interesting.

Those eyes. They do much more than just see.

Those eyes. They do much more than just see.

The way he holds her. His sensitivity.

The way he holds her. His sensitivity.

A good photographer relaxes the subject of portraits, like Joyous Photographer managed to do with the first photo shoot after Lydia came home from the hospital.  In two weeks I am going to take my first digital photography with Mandy Kendall at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts class.

Guess what I hope to focus on? How to take high-quality portraits, both candid and posed.

I can’t end this post without the reminder of the thousands of faces in Houston, and now New Orleans, who are experiencing devastation from flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Here is a series of dramatic photos I ask you to look at prayerfully. Maybe you want to print one of these to put on your desk to remind you to keep praying.

Then get out your checkbook. I’ll be sending my dollars here.

We have so little power against nature when she is enraged.

But the power we do have can be seen in the place all babies learn to look: the human face.

I wish the comments section would allow us to upload photos from you that show your love of the human face. But since they don’t, I’d love to hear your portrait stories. Could be written description, image, or song.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on August 31, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Photography links in a magical way the eye, hand, and mind, something you are already adept at. It also connects an art form with family and memory, the beauty of this post. Apparently in your family shots, you followed to a tee the photographer’s instructions for color coordination and postural poses.

    Photos with shoulder hugs and hand-holding project a special message, I think. In my mind’s eye I see a snapshot of Curtis from a rear view guiding his brother Ian to class on his first day of school.

    At the moment, I am labeling hundreds of family photos for two reasons: my iPhone has gotten over-loaded + I want to access photo quickly by name; image numbers have no meaning. Many of the shots have jogged my memory, “Oh, yes, that did happen!”

    Thank you for showcasing your dynamic family unit here and for the appeal to help hurricane victims. Yes, I have donated and will again as the need arises. Hurricane Harvey has a human face for us. Our next-door neighbors moved to Houston 3 weeks ago to be closer to family. They are safe but reeling from the catastrophe.

    Best wishes as you continue to secure your family’s legacy with photos that arrest images in a special time and place. Another form of jubilacion!

    • Shirley Showalter on August 31, 2017 at 10:22 am

      Marian, hats off to you for working at digital organization of photos. You obviously know how to “read” the messages embedded in them.

      I must confess that my digital photos are a mess. Few of them are labeled. One reason I keep blogging after all these years is that I have preserved some of my favorites and can search for them this way. I have to get them out of my iPhone and into folders. Do I use Google, Apple, or some other storage place? Which ones will last? And the whole Cloud thing is a mystery to me. Aargh.

      You mentioned colors and postures. What was most magical about the two most recent photo shoots I was part of was that the instructions were minimal and not totally followed. For example, I asked Kelly about colors. I had seen a lot of beach families in all white. Kelly said “I like pastels or jewel colors.” I passed along this sentence to children. We showed up at the beach with what we had. The top Kate is wearing I found in a sports shop on the beach itself, since she’s transitioning from her maternity wardrobe. The two dresses turned out to be lovely contrasts to the rest of the colors. We might have picked a less florescent aqua for Stuart had we seen the whole, but it’s nice having him shine out. 🙂

      Likewise, the instructions were minimal. We were really battling flies! I was attacked by piles of them, maybe 20-30, at a time. Their bites hurt! But I kept on saying, “They aren’t here” and smiling.

      Gotta be a metaphor in that, right?

      Thanks so much for alerting me to the comment problem. My nephew Clay Showalter applied some kind of mojo to my website.

      Maybe he can help me organize my photos, too. I’m sure he can when I’m ready. Too many chuckles and squeals and coos to elicit and enjoy now!

  2. Joa on August 31, 2017 at 11:33 am

    Absolutely gorgeous family! Glad you’re having a great time!

    • Shirley Showalter on August 31, 2017 at 7:33 pm

      Thanks, Joan. Thought of you when Charlottesville was all over the news. Hope to connect and share stories when this year is over.

  3. Laurie Buchanan on August 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Shirley — Oh my blessed word, I love the portraits you shared in this post! How cool that you’re going to take a digital photography class!

    Some of my favorite portraits are of animals. The day before yesterday—Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day—I posted portraits of companion animals who left indelible paw prints on our hearts.

    • Shirley Showalter on August 31, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      Thank you, Laurie. You have made your animals come alive in the portraits you make of them in both images and words. I feel they are my friends too.

      I intended to comment on your post about doors, I love the interesting ones you showed us — portraits of inanimate objects also tell stories and show personality. I wanted to show you so many of the doors on this street today. Maybe I’ll do a future blog post and link to yours.

  4. Kathleen on August 31, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Portraits and photographs of people have a way of telling stories without words. Their beauty comes from what we see as well as feelings that stir memories and invite connection. I see love and belonging, plus a sense of fun and caring shining from your photo session on the beach.

    I hope your digital photography class launches you into the full process of photography of people!

    • Shirley Showalter on August 31, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      Portraits connect the visible to the invisible. I love the way you said this: “Their beauty comes from what we see as well as feelings that stir memories and invite connection.”

      Thanks for the kind words about our family and the good wishes on the class. Eager to learn!

  5. Susan on August 31, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    The video of Lydia was simply wonderful Shirley! Such bright and depthful eyes taking in each moment. No flies on you in capturing these moments. The other photos are lovely too.

    Am holding all those affected by the flooding in Houston and other outskirts, including those in other parts of the world, in my prayers.

    Thank you for this lovely post ?

    • Shirley Showalter on September 2, 2017 at 7:58 am

      Susan, thank you for persisting as we worked on a problem with the comment section here!

      And thank you for mentioning the little video. I am amazed each day as Lydia learns through gazing. I know she feels and thinks deeply even at 12 weeks, and that she already knows that connection to another human being’s eyes takes her to her own soul. Being with a child like this is a form of prayer.

      Thank you also for reminding us Americans that there are even worse floods in other parts of the world right now. I’m donating for those too.

      So much suffering and so much beauty. Our hearts are stretched.

  6. Barbra Graber on August 31, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    I love your photographs and seeing your growing family, Shirley. Will miss you here on Collegw Avenue but do enjoy your time.

    • Shirley Showalter on August 31, 2017 at 9:11 pm

      Thank you, Barb! We seem to have passed each other on passages to and from Harrisonburg. I always think of you when I hear about a good movie. Next year!

  7. Melodie Davis on September 1, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Of your photos, I especially love the one of your oldest granddaughter, with her side-eye look.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 1, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Yes, that picture cracks me up too, Melodie. Julia is practicing to be a teenager. 🙂

      Thanks for persisting while my comments were offline temporarily. Hope not too many other people had problems.

  8. Sue McFadden on September 1, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    HI Shirley! I can most certainly relate to your love of faces and portraits. I immediately responded to your childhood picture on the cover of Blush. There was something so familiar about your face as it mirrored something of mine at that age. (We’ll have to exchange it sometime!). I first and foremost sent a donation to your suggested site for the victims of hurricane Harvey. My prayers are most certainly with everyone affected and the great people who have come to help. Thanks for direction in that event. Portraits have always spoke to me. I see God’s face in everyone and everything. Part of my calling to be an artist. It started for me at five when I drew a profile of my Father with many more to come over the years. My family have been my favorites; a recent portrait was of my nephew who passed away last year suddenly at 38. Painting a portrait for my brother and his ex-wife helped me work through my shock and mourning. Good luck with your digital photography class! I’m sure life will take on a new ‘light’ for you!

    • Shirley Showalter on September 2, 2017 at 7:43 am

      Sue, thank you so much for these kind words. I’d love to see your childhood picture that speaks to mine. Maybe you’ll be inspired to do a child-era self-portrait and share it online. 🙂 Readers, go check out Sue’s art on Facebook. Wonderful!

      So glad you found the donate link helpful. We can’t solve the problem, but if we all contribute a little, we can make life better, faster.

      The face of God. Yes, we can see it in every face. So glad you are finding ways to help others do this as you follow your calling to create.

  9. Merril Smith on September 2, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    These family photos are lovely, Shirley. I do like the two looking at each other in the line, your granddaughter’s eyes in her portrait, and the tenderness of the siblings (?). The flies sound horrible.
    How wonderful that you have these photos, and that you will be learning about photography. I wish we had had the ease of phone cameras when our girls were little, but then I think about previous generations who only had photographs for special occasions or perhaps only an painted image on locket–or only memories.

    We’ve given to a few organizations for relief in Houston. My husband’s aunt and uncle (who has dementia) are there, but they are safe.

  10. Shirley Showalter on September 2, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    So glad your relatives are safe in Houston, Merril. And that you enjoyed these images.

    Your own historical imagination made a contrast between past generations with few photos and our own with hundreds or thousands taken not over a lifetime but perhaps every year. Each gift, such as easy photography access, carries a challenge or even a liability. One is mentioned above: organization. Another is perhaps distraction. Instead of memories, we might be creating a generation who remembers an iPhone in the face instead of the Grand Canyon.

    Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, right? 🙂

  11. Sherrey Meyer on September 16, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Shirley, that Lydia is a gem! So in tandem with your words, responding in kind, expressing joy of this moment with you. Today’s video capture so much more than our home movies ever did.

    When it comes to photography, I always thought I’d enjoy a class but life got busy and along came writing. Some of my favorite photos are of our children and among them are some crazy facial expressions, sad ones, and then the most happy ones. Thanks to “selfies,” which I’m not good at taking, our daughter-in-law Gigi posted the best black and white of son Craig and herself. Suddenly it has become my favorite because I see love, happiness, and most importantly contentment.

    Thanks for the post. It’s a treasure!

    • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2017 at 9:36 pm

      Yes, Sherrey, video on smart phones makes it possible to record minute, daily, changes without the bother and expense of special equipment. And the quality is actually quite high. It will be fun to show these baby videos to Lydia when she gets older. The ones I took of Owen crack him up now.

      The photography class only meets three times. So I was able to fit it into my schedule. I also purchased two CreativeLive photography classes. They are relatively inexpensive and so far seem good.

      Yes, what makes a family portrait good is not necessarily technical skill or objective beauty. Rather, it’s the feelings evoked and the memories of other times when we have felt the same.

      Hope you get to take a class yourself some day. But you already know what you like best in photos — love and contentment.

  12. CS on September 25, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Great photos!

    • Shirley Showalter on September 25, 2017 at 9:48 pm


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