1962: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence the fashionable photographer

Sepia Saturday 393: Tenth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Perfectly dressed for a picture or a picnic (1962). My fashionable maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — in a crisp tailored dress, pumps, patterned apron and jewelry –adjusts her camera at an outdoor family picnic. Scan by Molly Charboneau

I am proud to descend from a long line of remarkable women. Among them was my maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence — who at age 57 decided to take up photography.

Until I was six years old, my family — Mom, Dad, two younger brothers and me — lived with my maternal grandparents in a large farmhouse called Whispering Chimneys in Altamont, Albany Co., New York.

When we first moved there, my grandmother Liz operated an antique shop down near Route 20, the busy highway that ran past our 10-acre farm. She also helped my mother out with us children.

A new midlife journey

But in the mid-1950s we relocated to the suburbs of Binghamton, N.Y., after my dad got a job transfer. Around the same time, my mom’s only sibling Aunt Rita made a similar career move to San Diego, Calif.

With her children getting on with their lives, Liz may have been at loose ends in the big farmhouse. She learned, and later taught, Early American Tole Painting in her studio at the farm — and created pieces for sale as gifts for weddings and other occasions.

Photo Class (Sept. 1963). At age 57, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence decided to take up photography — an unusual pursuit for a woman judging by this picture of her in photo class. Scan by Molly Charboneau

However, Liz apparently wanted an additional creative outlet — because at midlife she enrolled in photography classes. And from the looks of her class, this was an unusual pursuit for women at the time.

Moving with the times

The Kodak Instamatic camera was introduced in 1962, and I remember having one of those little cameras as a teenager. But my grandmother set her sights on more sophisticated photo taking.

Liz started with an SLR and later used a square format camera that required looking down through the lens from the top. With these she took umpteen family and still-life photos using color slide film to perfect her craft. Slides became her metier and I inherited several boxes of her work.

Naturally, Liz kept up appearances with crisp, tailored clothing — as shown here — whether in class or hosting a family picnic at the farm. In fact, she may have viewed her clothing as another form of artist expression — one she had cultivated since childhood that complemented the other art forms she learned as an adult.

Up next: My maternal grandmother in a dress to die for as mother of the bride at my parents’ wedding. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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12 thoughts on “1962: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence the fashionable photographer”

  1. Taking a photography class means learning about light meters, f-stops and shutter speeds, as well as the chemicals to process negatives and the light room with enlargers. I loved learning all that and was required to purchase an SLR camera for the class, which was later stolen. And I was in the 80s doing all that! It still gives me good basics in framing a photo before I click the button on the phone!

  2. That’s a wonderful image of your grandmother with her camera. Certainly an image familiar to anyone who ever shot with a 35mm. My only question is where’s her lightmeter? I always remember my dad having the lightmeter hanging around his neck. I knew I had grown up when he taught me how to use it.

    1. She had a light meter and a little Kodak book with a dial in it to figure our exposures — which I still have. I think because these were outdoor shots, she probably read the light once, then used that setting. On the chair at the right behind her there appears to be a camera bag that would have held her ancillary equipment.

    1. Well, this was 1963 and the women’s movement in the U.S. was just picking up steam, so her participation in photo class may have been a bellwether.

  3. Your grandmother certainly had a strong desire to create. Photography has evolved so rapidly in the 21st century into a quick and easy media, we forget how much skill and knowledge was required to take good photographs. Like your grandmother my dad had that same techno bug and amassed hundreds of cameras of all kinds. I’ve inherited 60 boxes of his slides and countless prints and negatives. Still sorting, sorting, sorting…

    1. I am still impressed that she was not at all intimidated by the technical side of photography. You have my congrats, and sympathies, on your huge collection of inherited slides. Sepia Saturday is helping me get some of mine scanned…but much sorting to come 🙂

  4. My first camera was a twin lens reflex and that was the easiest to focus. Next I had a SLR which was harder to focus. Now my pictures are usually poorly focused with my digital cameras with autofocus.

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