Pain is unavoidable in life. The best anyone can hope for is to deal with it in a positive way, which photographer Elmore DeMott aims for in her work. DeMott will discuss this and her most recent project, “Flowers for Mom,” at 12:15 p.m. Monday, July 16, in Smith Wilkes Hall as part of the Bird, Tree & Garden Club’s Monarch Moments and More series.
Her ongoing project is DeMott’s way of dealing with her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, and she hopes it can help others deal with their own struggles as well.
DeMott said ending up a photographer was almost magical. The first time she met her adviser in college to discuss her future, he suggested a career in math because of her transcript. She graduated from Vanderbilt University with degrees in math and fine arts, studying photography and art history on the side as a passion, rather than a career.
She began her career in business before moving into art administration and eventually moving into the role of full-time mom. Her career in art administration introduced her to a number of artists, and through social media, she began to make a name for herself as a nature photographer.
“Do what you love and success will follow,” DeMott said. “And it’s true.”
Her nature photography landed her editorial, commercial and portrait jobs, where she said she worked heavily with both the elderly and nursing homes. This would go on to tie in heavily with the project she’s discussing at her talk today.
DeMott’s mother fell in their home at Chautauqua about two years ago. Her condition took a turn for the worse after. Unable to control her mother’s condition, DeMott often walked around the grounds, looking at the flowers to cope.
Walking on the south end of the grounds on Aug. 2, 2016, she spotted a patch of Queen Anne’s lace, her mother’s favorite flower, in a patch of sunlight and knew what she wanted to do. Her project began: a photo of a flower a day for her mother.
DeMott takes close-up, horizontal photos of flowers, with the same lens, releasing one photo each day. Sometimes making the final choice can be tough, she said.
The series took to a new level, quickly reaching people all over the world, DeMott said. It became so much more than she said she could have ever expected, sparking connections and conversations with people she’d never met.
“It’s remarkable,” DeMott said. “When you plant a garden, you never know how it’s going to grow. At this point, I would say ‘Flowers for Mom’ has grown beyond me and my family.”
DeMott said she has been contacted by people who are faced with hardships who tell her that her work has impacted their lives. Her photos vary depending on her emotions and how she’s feeling each day. Almost two years into the project now, DeMott said she honestly didn’t expect the project to still be active.
On the one-year anniversary of the project’s inception, DeMott said she was riding on a ferry in Norway with her husband from Copenhagen to Oslo. She wasn’t sure if she should give up the project, or at least change her approach.
“I walk in the hotel, and what’s sitting on the registration desk?” DeMott asked. “It’s a bouquet of what else but Queen Anne’s lace. So that’s it. That’s what it was going to be.”
DeMott noted another powerful moment on the anniversary of her mother’s fall while walking in the same spot where she’d been inspired to begin the project. She had already planned to photograph her mother’s favorite flower, and found a bud and open bloom of Queen Anne’s lace beside each other.
“The camera focus kept defaulting to the bud in the back,” DeMott said. “Then a ray of sunshine came down and hit the bud on the back and, yeah, it was symbolic to me. Two women walked past and said, ‘It must be a beautiful flower.’ I turned, burst into tears, and said, ‘Yeah it really is.’ ”
Not only has the project helped DeMott deal with her mother’s condition, it’s helped her connect. She said it gives her and her father, the gardener in the family, something to talk about besides just, “How’s Mom doing?” Photographing the grounds around Chautauqua has helped her connect with the community here as well.
DeMott said her talk today about “Flowers for Mom” is not only a chance to share her work. She said it’s a chance to give thanks to a community at Chautauqua that gave her the place she needed to complete it.
DeMott has two daughters with her husband. They live in Montgomery, Alabama, most of the year while spending summers in Chautauqua. Her work is featured in numerous galleries, and a selection of her work was auctioned off to raise money at a local hospital. DeMott’s pictures are now displayed there in honor of the families’ loved ones.
“Beauty abounds; seek it daily,” DeMott said. “For me, my thing happens to be Alzheimer’s. For someone else, it might be cancer, it might be a child in a rough patch, losing a job or whatever. We can choose to find the bright patch in life and the beauty outside everyday, but we have to seek it.”