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Family Values

February 12, 2018  •  8 Comments

Dear Friends,

You've heard me say this before.  The documentary family photography sessions that I love to do are about capturing and telling a family's story, no matter how one defines 'family.'  While much of my work focuses on families with young children, lately I find myself on a mission to tell the stories of families with loved ones who have lived full and amazing lives.  Families whose older members still have a lot to say and from whom we can learn a great deal.  In this blog post, I turn to my own family, which is something that I rarely do but now the timing feels right.

I started working on this story a couple of years ago.  A lot has happened since then.  I think it's called 'life.'  Nine months ago both my mom and dad left our family, at least in the physical sense, to go to heaven.  They both lived 88 years, and I'd say that all but the last 18 months were quality years.  Up until then, they were in good health, independent, and the loving and loved matriarch and patriarch of our large Irish Italian family.  I'm quite sure that they are in a better place now and enjoying a perfect 'second act,' but not a day goes by that I don't miss them terribly.  It has taken me this long to be able to look at these photos and to tell this story about one of the many valuable lessons that they taught me.  The importance of family values. 

The dictionary defines family values as 'values held to be traditionally learned or reinforced within a family, such as those of high moral standards and discipline.'   The importance of family values is one of those things that you can't fully understand or appreciate as a kid.  When you're young, you're too busy playing with your friends and arguing with your siblings.  You're too occupied with your daily traumas and dramas.  As a kid, you're most likely just not tuned into this remarkable gift that your parents have given you.  This is my story of how my family values, those instilled in me by my mom and dad, have impacted my life.

One Sunday afternoon, a little over two years ago, my parents and I decided to visit my mom's hometown of tiny Export, PA.  Export is located about 20 miles east of where I live in Pittsburgh.  I decided to take my camera along that day.  On our agenda was a visit with my mom's sister, my Aunt Teressa who lives in a nursing home.  Aunt Teressa was 91 at the time and I wasn't sure how many more opportunities I would have to take some photos of mom and her sister together.  

My mom is on the left and Aunt Teressa is on the right.  You would have to know the Aunt Teressa of my childhood to see that she is no longer the same fiery, outspoken, opinionated, fun-loving, gifted seamstress that we all knew and loved.  Sadly, dementia has taken away those parts of her personality.  (On the other hand, she's a lot more easy-going these days!)  On the afternoon of our visit, we found her sitting in the common area of the nursing home with her housemates.  As I looked around, I was touched by the sense of family that I witnessed.  Even though they were not 'blood relatives,' the women in the room seemed to share a family bond.  They ate together, prayed together, socialized together, and enjoyed visitors together.

And yes, they were growing older together.

During our visit, we tried to talk about the present, including which grandchildren were getting married or graduating from high school.  But aside from, "How are you feeling today?" the present was less available to Aunt Teressa.  Stories of the past, such as how she would buy my siblings and me sweet pink-coated popcorn when we were young (because she was the fun, single aunt) were met with a faint smile and a nod of her head.  Mostly we held her hand and talked about the birds at the feeders outside the window.  She seemed very content and happy in her world.

When it was time to go, we said our goodbyes and headed down the road to the main street in Export.  I'm not sure when Export had its heyday.  My memories of the town when I visited my grandma as a kid were pretty much the same as what I saw that day.  It's a quiet place with a small main street, a rather large church, and a mid-size school surrounded by older but generally well-kept homes.  On the way into town, we drove through the single lane 'tunnel,' as we called it as kids, which was nothing more than an underpass.  My dad looked over his shoulder at me in the back seat and smiled as he loudly honked the horn.  The three of us laughed as I shouted, "Honk the horn!  Honk the horn!" as this is what my brothers, sisters and I did as kids when we went through the 'tunnel' to warn oncoming traffic. 

We then turned the corner and went up the hill to see The Big House.  This is where my mom, along with her three sisters and her brother grew up with her parents. 

My mom and dad were both pleased to see that The Big House was nicely maintained.  But my mom shook her head and said to me, "The house is unrecognizable from when I lived there as a kid."  She told me how my grandad would freeze the backyard every winter to make an ice skating rink where my Uncle Joe and Aunt Liz would skate.  In recent months while cleaning out my parents home, I came across several photos of The Big House.  Here is my grandma, and a man that I'm pretty sure is my grandad, standing on the front porch.

As their children grew up and moved out, my grandparents sold The Big House and bought a building on the main street in town.  My grandad, who arrived in America from Italy as a teenager, was a shoemaker.  The white building shown in the photo below is my grandparents' home.  Grandad's shoe store was on the street level and my grandparents and Aunt Teressa lived in the apartment upstairs.  My grandad died two years before I was born but I have many wonderful memories of visiting my grandma in her apartment and the smell of shoe leather and oil that remained in my grandad's shop long after he was gone.

Our next and last stop was the cemetery where my grandma and grandad were buried.  I can't fully explain the respect and honor that my dad had for relatives that had gone before him,  On a regular basis, dad visited and lovingly maintained at least three cemeteries where family members were laid to rest.  He was our family historian and a gifted Irish storyteller if ever there was one.  He was our 'keeper of the flame.' 

In my mind, there is no other explanation other than family values as to why two people, 86 years old at the time, would be on their hands and knees digging and planting and watering in a cemetery high on top of a hill in Export, PA on a sunny, hot day.  I was moved and in awe as I watched my parents doing what they thought was important, which was to honor my grandparents and their memory.  In fact, our entire afternoon together was a testimony to the family values that my parents had instilled in me.

The longer that my mom and dad are gone from this world, the more reasons I find to thank them.  It's not that I didn't appreciate them and everything that they did for me while they were here, because I truly did and I thanked them often.  It's just that as I grow older, and now that I'm a parent myself, everything that they did for me is valued and cherished even more. 

So, for the lessons that you taught me, the sacrifices that you made for me, and the gifts that you gave me, including our family values, thanks, mom, and dad.


Love is All You Need

January 17, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

When I look at the images from a session, one word often comes to mind that summarizes the story that I want to tell.  Sometimes the word is 'fun!'  Sometimes the word is 'adventure.' Or sometimes 'crazy' or 'silly' fits the bill!  To describe my time with baby Sierra and her family, 'love' is all you need.

I believe that babies come into this world at a very specific time for a very specific reason.  Sometimes it seems like such a tall order for such a little being.  But whatever the timing and whatever the reason, it all has a way of working out.  

Sierra has come to spread love!  Look at her face!  How can she not?

I joined Sierra and her family on a Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks before Christmas.  The family was getting ready to celebrate not only Sierra's first Christmas but also her first birthday shortly after the holidays.  There was much celebrating to be done! 

What a joy to be able to capture Sierra's favorite routines with her family. 

Never was bath time so much fun!


Witnessing the love between Sierra and her mom was beautiful.

Of course, all of this love and joy was meant to be shared.  I quickly realized that Sierra has a special and unique bond with each member of her family.  Including special moments and playtime with Pap.


Reading and snuggling with Grandma.

And hanging out with Uncle Eric.


Yet in the end, love is all you need.

A Morning with Tom and His Son

October 24, 2017  •  3 Comments

Dear Friends,

A documentary family photography session need not be only a mom, dad, and their young children.  A family is how you decide to define family, and that shapes your session.  Recently I had the honor of spending a morning photographing a wonderful man, Tom and his son Cliff.  Meet Tom, who is 91-years-young.  

It was wonderful getting to know this gentleman, who has lived a very full and interesting life.  Tom is the father of five children, grandfather to 13, and great-grandfather to 11 little ones.  Sadly, after 50 years of marriage, his wife Bea died 11 years ago. 

A retired engineer, Tom has always been a hands-on type of guy, taking care of repairs around his house and working on his car and lawnmowers.  Woodworking has also been a long time hobby.  In addition to making the cabinets in his kitchen, Tom made many high chairs for his grandchildren and two grandfather clocks.  To help keep his mind sharp, Tom does the crossword puzzle in the daily newspaper.  He is also an avid gardener and until recently, canned many of the vegetables that he grew.  According to his daughter-in-law, Barbara he made "the most amazing spaghetti sauce."  Admittedly, since he had to stop driving, Tom has had to give up a few of his activities outside of his home including square dancing and volunteering for Meals On Wheels.  Still, I was in awe of his energy and quick mind and was touched by his kind smile and gentle demeanor.

On the morning that I met Tom, his son Cliff was visiting from Massachusetts.  When I arrived, Cliff greeted me at the front of the house and led me to the backyard where I found Tom hanging his laundry.

Tom greeted me warmly and after finishing the laundry was happy to show me around his lovely home and yard.  Our first stop was the basement where he proudly showed me where his grandchildren and great-grandchildren had written their names on the wooden beams.

He then leads me to his workshop, where in addition to those highchairs and clocks, a lifetime of projects was lovingly created and many a broken thing was fixed.

Tom then invited me upstairs to the living room to see one of the two grandfather clocks that he made.

I also learned a little bit about his lovely wife Bea, who was a nurse and a talented quilt maker. 

Tom showing me a framed photo of Bea and her quilts.

We then headed to the backyard where Tom was happy to share one of his other favorite places, his garage.  He ruefully smiled as he looked at no less than five lawnmowers in various stages of being repaired.  "None of them work!" he told me.  "Maybe someday," he added.

We then made a quick stop to admire his vegetable garden, filled with several varieties of beautiful red and yellow tomatoes, split and bursting with ripeness.  

Tom then headed to join Cliff who was busy replacing a set of wooden doors that cover the steps leading to the basement.  Not for a minute did I think Tom would pull up a chair and watch from the back porch.  He did exactly as I expected he would.  He grabbed his tools and worked side-by-side with his son.  They cut wood, measured, hammered nails, talked and adjusted their project plan along the way.  

Finally, when the new doors were in place, Tom did the final inspection, checking that everything was in alignment and that the hinges were tight and secure.  He smiled at Cliff, giving his approval as if to say, 'That will do nicely.'

It was then time for me to leave.  I won't soon forget Tom.  A true inspiration in so many ways.  Thank you, Tom and Cliff, for a truly memorable session.

To see more images from my time with Tom and Cliff, please visit my website, katebuckleyphotography.com and the gallery Tom and His Son Cliff.


Benny & Bean --- Spreading Cuteness and Love

September 13, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Dear Friends,

When I come across something that I love, I want to share it with all of you.  Which leads me to Benny & Bean.  This mother daughter-run business is stitching the most adorable, soft, cuddly dolls.  Each doll is handmade with love and comes in a variety of fabric colors and patterns.  With the holidays just around the corner (I know you may not want to hear this just yet but honestly, it's true) now is the perfect time to purchase these sweet friends.  The dolls will make a perfect gift not only for the little ones on your list but also for anyone who likes to snuggle with something soft and cute.  (I've been told that the dolls are a big hit with the college crowd too!)  Benny & Bean's product line also includes bib and matching towel sets, and fabric snack bags.

I recently had an opportunity to photograph the creative, sweet, and fun team behind Benny & Bean, along with some of their products.  Here are a few of my favorite shots from our session.  To learn more about where you can purchase a Benny & Bean doll, and other stitched-with-love items, check out their Facebook page, Benny & Bean.

Finally, meet Team Benny & Bean.  Thanks for the opportunity to share your story!

A Visit to Royal Oak School

July 09, 2017  •  1 Comment

It's always fun to make new friends.  It's even more fun when they are outside, running around playing, chasing one another, or just hanging out on a beautiful summer morning.  Such was my good fortune on a recent morning when I visited Royal Oak School located in Hampton Township (where I grew up!) north of Pittsburgh.  

I was delighted to have an opportunity to photograph the great kids attending the summer session at Royal Oak School.  When I walk into any place, with or without my camera, I immediately get a feeling about the people and my surroundings.  And my feeling about Royal Oak School is that it's a very special place.  The staff was professional and kind, and the kids were great!  They exemplified everything that I love about photographing children.  They were funny, silly, friendly, cool, shy, coy, carefree, confident and sweet.  

Enough talking!  I'll let a few of my favorite photos from my visit speak for themselves.

Royal Oak was founded in 1967 which means they are getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary.  That's 50 years of smiles.  Congratulations, new friends at Royal Oak and thank you for allowing me to spend a great summer morning with all of you.