Photographer Elain Christensen at the opening of her show, "Windemere Portraits."

Dedicated photographer captures precious memories

Photos and story by Keri McLeod - June 8, 2006

Photographer Elain Christensen celebrated the completion of her solo show, "Windemere Portraits," at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Oak Bluffs last Thursday. There was live music and refreshments as people viewed the portraits of many of the residents of the Windemere community.

For more than 30 years, Ms. Christensen has been an avid photographer. She moved to Martha's Vineyard 18 years ago and in 1992 decided to photograph flowers, and only those native to the Island.

The following year, Ms. Christensen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She became a resident of Windemere in 2005. As time passed, it became increasingly difficult for her to take photographs. Last year, she asked Dorothy Soquist, Director of Social Services at Windemere, to help her contact the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School's Visual Arts department to see if she could obtain some assistance in photographing.

Esther Waller (left) and her daughter Marna Waller at their photo display. Along with the portraits the display includes a recipe for Esther's Irish soda bread.

As a result, Janice Baer, Director of the Center for Creative Expression at the school, along with three high school students, became technical assistants for the project, which evolved into "Windemere Portraits." Meeting each week, the students and Ms. Baer helped Ms. Christensen continue her photography work. But now her subject had changed; instead of native flowers, she took portraits of her fellow residents.

Once a week for the past six months, Ms. Baer and students Andy Walsh, a junior, sophomore Amelia Adler, and freshman Marlan Sigelman worked with Ms. Christensen as she photographed the 30 residents who volunteered to be part of this project. Amelia and Marlan assisted with technical components of portraiture, including setting up tripods, lighting, and staging. Andy, in addition to assisting, photographed candid shots to document the process. Back at school, with Visual Arts teacher Chris Baer, the three students printed contact sheets for Ms. Christensen to view. The students also printed the images and mounted them.

Andy said his favorite part of the project was to "help Ms. Christensen take photos because with MS it is difficult to shoot and we helped her get great results."

Elain Christensen in an image by student photographer Andy Walsh.

Ms. Christensen said she was very happy with the outcome of the project and the students and teachers seemed to be as well. Nearly all of the portraits were shot and processed digitally. The prints range in size from 8 1/2 x 11 to 13 by 19 inches.

Being shown along with the portraits are a number of favorite recipes from each Windemere resident that participated. Gathering the recipes gave students a chance to interact with the residents on a more personal level.

The recipes are included in a cookbook compiled by the students. Some are exhibited next to the portraits, like the recipe for Irish soda bread hung next to the portrait of Esther and Marna Waller. Esther says the bread was a staple in her family when she was growing up.

"Windemere Portraits" show continues through June at the Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Oak Bluffs. The show is open to the public.

Keri McLeod is a freelance photographer who often contributes to The Times.