Fine Art Photography Daily

Robert Larson: Grandma and Grandpa

I met my friend Robert Larson many years ago, when he was working as a newspaper photographer, learning his craft and thinking about a future as a documentary photographer. In subsequent years, he traveled the world, volunteering abroad with non-profit organizations such as Mercy Ships, The Red Cross and J/P HRO. But it wasn’t until after documenting the death of his grandfather in 2009, that he decided to focus on photographic essays and story telling – rather than single images. Today, Lenscratch features his project, Grandma and Grandpa.

Robert was born in Dallas, Texas and was then adopted by a wonderful family in Los Angeles, California. On January 12th 2010, he began a personal project called Waiting for Haiti with the goal of persistently documenting Haitian society. Though it was initially a self funded project, Waiting for Haiti has now received multiple grants and is on track to become a life long pursuit.


In 2005, I enrolled in a basic photography class completely unaware that taking pictures would soon become a passion. I had just graduated high school and moved into my Grandparents house in order to keep an eye out and help with daily tasks. In the beginning, I photographed my Grandparents simply out of love, and because they were extremely patient subjects. 

Shortly after moving in with them, their lives began to rapidly change. Grandma fell more frequently as her dementia progressed; Grandpa started having minor strokes. Eventually, a large stroke took his ability to walk, but more importantly, it took his ability to take care of Grandma. The decision was made to move them into an assisted living home. Although it was a difficult transition, they were grateful to be together and live only a few blocks away from their house. 

As their minds and bodies aged, the mood of the images changed as well. Grandpa was my best friend, and Grandma had always been like a fairy godmother. As time went on, the pictures became more meaningful, and the camera began shielding me from the difficult realities of life. I was becoming more and more aware of the inevitable. 

In the years since they passed, I have often struggled to decide how these images should be presented. There are two very different series. One edit focused solely on Grandma and Grandpa’s decline – the other edit was pure happiness and love. This photo essay is a combination of the two. 
My grandparents and I had an unusual conversation about a year prior to my Grandpa’s stroke: While sitting and drinking coffee around their kitchen table, I asked if it would be alright for me to take their picture after they died. Coming from me, they didn’t find the question odd – for most of my life, I was very fascinated with death. My favorite WWII story that Grandpa told was about digging graves for the rotting Japanese soldiers on the Bikini Atoll. He laughed at my question and said, “sure, I’ll be dead, what will I care?”. Grandma, as sweet as ever said, “oh, that would be lovely!” 
Robert Armstrong passed away on September 5th, 2009 and Dorothy Armstrong on September 15th, 2011. Neither of them wanted a memorial service, they saw it as a waste of money that could otherwise be enjoyed by their children. If there had been a service, I would have wanted to say how lucky I’ve always felt to grow up with such wonderful Grandparents. Their love for each other was inspirational – Grandpa’s stubborn dedication to take care of his wife well exceeded his physical ability to do so; and it was was down right heroic to me. Since they passed away, I have tried my best to follow his examples: Loving unconditionally, giving without expectations, and never regretting any decision made for the good of the family. The impression he left was so strong that when times are tough it is surprisingly easy to follow his lead. 
Soon, I will be married. I know that marriage is an event which triggers the start of a whole new stage in life. I often reminisce about the past, and one thing always comes to mind… the best part of life during that first stage was simply knowing my Grandma and Grandpa. It was such an honor to be their grandson.
Robert Larson and Jenny Martinez were married on April 13th, 2013.  Congratulations and a toast to a long and happy life together.

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