My grandmother, who raised me, was a stern woman of very few words. She believed in strong discipline. But she was also a devoted caregiver. Growing up, she would dress me in Baby Jane ruffled dresses and braid my hair into two twists with ribbons and hair ballies. On the morning of this photo, which I took in 2005, she did my hair again, just like she did when I was a child.

Every Saturday afternoon, around the same time each week, she would tend to her porcelain dolls. She must have had hundreds, all in different sizes, different outfits, different nationalities. It was like the UN of porcelain dolls in her living room.

She began collecting them when my aunt – her daughter – was murdered. It was something to do with filling that loss. But it was also about pride. Despite growing up in a hard, industrial town like the one I grew up in, I never felt poor. The care she expended on them taught me that, no matter what the circumstances outside were like, we should always take care of ourselves. She taught me that we had value.

I set up the camera and the moment she came into the frame, I moved in, sat next to her and asked her to look at the lens. I had no idea what her expression was, I just turned and pressed the shutter release – you can see it in my right hand. In 14 years of documenting my family and my home town, this was one of thefew times my grandmother cooperated. For that alone, this shot is immensely special to me.


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KOLUMN Magazine celebrates the lives of People of Color by giving our world texture.