The first flower that caught Elmore DeMott’s eye was a sunlit blossom of Queen Anne’s lace — her mother’s favorite. Grabbing a camera, DeMott framed the delicate white flower, clicked the shutter and began a now three-year journey to photograph a flower every day in honor of her mother’s walk with Alzheimer’s disease.
She dubbed the project “Flowers for Mom.”
“It’s easy to get lost in the sad, the bad, the ugly. We all have to deliberately choose to pause for beauty and joy, even if it’s just for a split second every day,” the Montgomery photographer said.
Those moments when DeMott paused to appreciate nature’s beauty currently appear at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in the exhibit “Beauty Abounds, Seek it Daily.” The one-woman show, which will remain on display through Oct. 12, features dozens of photographs of flowers, each taken on a separate day since Aug. 2, 2016.
From new buds to fading flowers to bees pollinating a garden, the photographs document and celebrate every phase of life. There is the bright yellow of a daffodil, the rust orange of a rose, a frost-covered flower, a purple weed growing through the crack in a sidewalk and faded zinnias.
“I can look at them and tell you emotionally where I probably was at that time based on the flowers. When it’s a rough patch, it is a chore to find a flower. I can see that reflected in the photograph. On the good days, though, it is fun and a joy to find the flowers,” DeMott said.
DeMott pointed to the photograph of the faded zinnias taken two weeks after the “Flowers for Mom” project began and a month after her mother suffered a life-altering fall in July 2016.
“We knew mom was cognitively impaired, but it was really subtle. We were told if she had a major event it could be a thing that took her rapidly down. After she fell and cracked her femur, that took us to a very different place. All of a sudden we were talking about wheelchair ramps and round-the-clock care,” DeMott said.
To hold on to some sense of normalcy, DeMott’s father and siblings turned to the flowers, a staple of her family.
“My dad was always the gardener. He would grow the flowers, cut them and mom would arrange them. After mom fell, dad still grew the flowers and cut them and we put them in a vase for mom,” DeMott said. “Two weeks later, I saw the faded petals and realized we missed a step. Mom was the one who would empty the vase when the flowers were faded. That’s when I started to shoot faded flowers.”
In selecting photographs for the Carnegie exhibit, DeMott sifted through the more than 1,000 images in the “Flowers for Mom” project.
“It was difficult because the photographs are much like my children, I love them all. In the exhibit, I selected photos that would show the different phases of the flowers — the faded, the bright and the light. It shows how things evolve with the seasons,” DeMott said.
“Flowers for Mom,” which began as a personal journey, has extended into a project with an ever-growing reach. Maria Shriver, founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, named DeMott an architect of change. And Jackson Hospital in Montgomery created a “Flowers for Mom” tribute gallery and invited individuals to add photos from the series in memory or honor of loved ones.
“My reality is, the project is called ‘Flowers for Mom,’ but the greatest beneficiary of all of it is me because it’s been a way for me to process, for me to pay attention to nature, for me to think of Mom every day,” DeMott said.
The Carnegie will host an artist reception with DeMott on Friday at 6 p.m. Admission is $5 for non-members and free for members.
On Sept. 20, DeMott will return to the Carnegie for an Alzheimer’s Lunch & Learn with Dr. Nick Cochran of HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. In June, Cochran received a $200,000 grant focused on better understanding one of the genes implicated in causing Alzheimer’s. The lunch and learn will start at noon. Admission is free.
The Carnegie, 207 Church St. N.E., is open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Q-and-A with Elmore DeMott
What led you to start photographing flowers? The way I process things is to be outside. Photography, for me, is a release. When I am really focused on taking pictures or processing pictures, the rest of the world drops away. Once I had done my initial part of responding to the immediate need after mom’s fall, I found myself going out early in the morning with my camera and taking pictures of flowers.
Do you have a system for finding the flowers? I have a sense first thing in the morning of where I think I want to go to get my flower, but I am routinely surprised by them. One day we were downtown and I looked down and there was a weed growing in the cracks of the sidewalk. I grabbed my camera and that was it for the day.
Do you share your photos with your mother? I periodically go and show Mom photos on my iPad. She doesn’t usually focus on them long. The day I showed her the faded zinnias, she looked at it and went, “Oh, how gross.” I just loved that response because she would never have let that happen.
What impact has the project had on you? What I never expected, but what has happened, is that the flowers give me something to talk about with Dad about other than how is Mom today. It’s pretty cool. He sent me a text today telling me he has a pumpkin flower blooming. That will be my flower for the day.
How do you see art, nature and health intersecting? They’re all directly related. I believe nature is the greatest source for healing. I think for any of us to be fully human, we need to take time to pause and connect with nature and we need to nourish our creative selves. That can mean so many things. People will often say I’m not creative. Well, being creative can be baking a birthday cake. It can be making something out of wood. Good business people are creative thinkers. I think we all have to find a way to be creative. I find nature is one of my greatest sources of inspiration for creativity.