HOME AWAY FROM HOME
”Residing within this house in Savannah, Georgia is more than a mother and a father and their children. This house is home to a family struggling with more than the “normal” day-to-day lifestyle. It is also home to a child with severe special needs.
The Pendergrass family is made up of Christine (Chrissy), Scott, Alexa, and twins, Ava and Ruby. Ruby has cerebral palsy and non-verbal autism. Although at first glance, their family may appear as ordinary as everyone else’s, the closer you look, the more you see the incredibly unique abnormalities of this family.
The first time I photographed Ruby and Ava, it was for my project on twins in Savannah in January 2019, but not long after, they became more than part of a project. After photographing them, Chrissy and I realized that I may be able to offer more than photographs and that they could give me more than a portfolio piece. I started babysitting for Chrissy over the summer and ended up evacuating with them to Asheville when a hurricane came to Savannah, and I needed somewhere to go. It was during this evacuation, in Asheville, that I started photographing them again – but in a way that felt like a more real, more authentic, glimpse into their lives. Living with them for a week and seeing their routine from breakfast to bedtime was exactly what I needed to form a story through my photographs and to reflect an accurate representation of their lives. When the fall quarter finally rolled around a few weeks later, I was in a photojournalism class and had to create a long-term documentary project. I knew I had to make this family the centerpiece of my project. I asked Chrissy what she thought, and that is where “Spa Night” came about.
From September 2019 until March 2020, I went to the Pendergrass home on Mondays and Wednesdays to help take care of Ruby while also taking photographs of them and their home. My afternoons were spent on trampolines, living room floors, inside kitchens, parks, and splash pads all while trying my best to give Scott and Chrissy a sense of relief that they didn’t always have to fix their eyes on Ruby. After a few months of quarantining due to the outbreak COVID-19, I was finally able to continue photographing them in August 2020 and have been doing so ever since.
I know that I was able to offer a service that not many people could, but I also know that I reaped more benefits from this relationship than I provided. I gained a family in Savannah – a “home away from home.” I was given the chance to see inside the intimate corners of their lives and witness a beautiful story unfold while being pushed to be to a better artist.
The daily tasks of this family mostly revolve around the protection and care of Ruby, since she cannot care for herself. When I first began photographing the Pendergrass family, I was doing so with the intention of showing the “normal-ness” of their lives and attempting to elevate them to an ethereal realm. I soon realized that this would be a false representation of them. Their family is absolutely not perfect nor ethereal – but instead unique and chaotic – in the very best way. Everyday tasks like eating, bathing, and grocery shopping are completely altered due to Ruby’s special needs. Not much is done in a traditional way in this household, and my newly defined purpose was to highlight the abnormalities of the family and the home in which they reside, while also showing how full of love this family is. An important part of representing the Pendergrass family in an honest way was to show how Ruby functions through her condition and how her twin sister, Ava, lives in harmony with her despite living a completely different reality. Although their lives are far from ordinary, the Pendergrass family has married a perfectly imperfect world with love, joy, and happiness in spite of their everyday challenges.”