Documenting African American history and the life story of an African American is like being an archeologist excavating God’s red earth that has not been moved for centuries. The joy and excitement felt when an artifact or remain is uncovered far outweighs the pain and struggle endured after many hours of searching. Such was the case when I photographed and learned of the life story of this African American woman who was born and raised in West Virginia. While growing up, people called her by her first and middle name “Linda Kay.” Please allow me to share with you a little bit of Linda Kay’s amazing story and my photoshoot with her.
As you look upon these stunning photos of a 66-year-old grandmother of 17 and mother of 5 boys, you see a vibrant woman who possesses a beautiful smile. Just like an archeologist, it is not what is on the surface that counts but what lies beneath it. As a documentary photographer I always strive to capture what is in the heart of the individual I am photographing. Prior and during my documentary photoshoots, I am constantly learning about my subjects. Linda Kay was born in 1954 in a small town in West Virginia. She was the 4th child out of 6 born to her father and mother—the 3rd of 4 girls.
A critical turning point in her life took place when she was only 12 years of age. A young, care-free girl who enjoyed school and music had her dreams ripped from her without any warning. Neither she nor her parents saw it coming; however, the environment which she grew up in was filled with devices that could trap innocent young boys and girls. With her young life caught up into a whirlwind, she would eventually find herself at the age of 18 single, on her own, and with 5 sons. If that was bad enough, she unexpectedly lost her mother and grandmother before the birth of her 5th child—a quick dissipation of her support group.
One would never know the journey Linda Kay has taken in her life. Imagine an 18-year-old mother raising 5 sons on her own. During this photoshoot I took it upon myself to draw out the love that she had shown to her 5 boys as they all grew up together. The strength that she possesses stems from that very source of love. During her life she battled poverty, loneliness, and oppression. A vast majority of it was spent regaining the control she had relinquished during her childhood. The phrase “What doesn’t break you, will only make you stronger” applies here. What you see standing her today in these photos is a strong woman that has survived the difficulties life has thrown her way.