— My grandmother, Vivienne Wooster Brewer, began taking her own photographs in 1906. That’s when the photo booth picture was made in Hartford, Connecticut. Vivienne studied to be a nurse in Philadelphia and traveled to Denver to intern. All along the way she took photographs of her friends, of her merry schoolmates and of landmarks. In 1912, my grandfather, Howard Brewer proposed to her in a Colorado Hotel and they were married a year later in Connecticut. Vivienne and Howard raised five children in Hartford: Louise, Norman, Mary, Harriet, Barbara. All but my mother are now deceased. My grandparents both died in 1968 and Vivienne’s scrapbooks and negatives made their way to my possession a few years ago.
I knew my grandmother as a stern, laconic woman who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease; I did not fully comprehend that she was the photographer of the family. Vivienne took great joy in photographing her husband, her friends and her family. She assembled beautiful scrapbooks with carefully inked captions. Although the pages are now disintergrating, the photographs are still extraordinarily fresh and alive. I scanned and printed about 250 of Vivienne’s pictures for my cousins this summer.
A lifetime in gelatin, here is a selection from her scrapbooks. From the first joyful image made at 18, to the last, a blurry picture of my Aunt Mary and her two children, made by Vivienne in 1964 at age 76.
James Welling was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1951 and lives in Los Angeles. Welling works with a variety of photographic materials: large scale color photograms, Polaroid photographs, gelatin silver prints, tricolor prints, multiple impression inkjet prints. Welling has had over 50 solo and group exhibitions and his work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Pompidou, Paris, The Whitney Museum, New York, MoCA, LOs Angeles and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. In 1995 Welling became a Professor and Area Head of Photography in the Department of Art at the University of California Los Angeles. He is currently working on a project about Andrew Wyeth that will be shown at Wako Works of Art, Tokyo, in January 2012.