Pam Houser’s BFA: “Jody Ellis: Aging, Loving, and Wisdom”
Pam Houser sits on a light blue desk chair inside the work-study room in the Marian Center. The tiny room is filled to the brim with photography supplies, but despite the cramped space, Houser can’t help but talk enthusiastically about her senior thesis.
Houser’s interest in photography peaked when she was five years old. Her older sister received a new Brownie Box Camera and helped Houser take a picture with it. Since then, Houser has continued to work in photography.
“I just really like everything about it really,” she says. “I’m kinda a sponge.”
Although she has taken some landscape and architecture photos as she’s traveled, Houser has always been more intrigued by the different looks people can have.
“I’m a people person,” she says. “I like capturing how they act and react in moments.”
Houser’s BFA, “Jody Ellis: Aging, Loving, and Wisdom,” focuses on a sharp-witted 90-year-old woman living in Santa Fe. The project features black and white pictures of Ellis going about daily activities in her home—sometimes posing for the camera, sometimes not. For example, in one photo titled “Hands,” Houser gives the viewer a close up of Ellis’s hands crossed in her lap. Another photo called, “Jody and Margeaux,” shows a middle-aged woman presenting Ellis with a small bouquet of tulips—both women smile lovingly at each other.
“She’s a live one, let me tell ya,” Houser laughs.
Houser met Ellis when the elderly woman, who taught—and still teaches—music from her home for years, donated 57 boxes of art books to Fogelson library. Moved by Ellis’s generosity, Houser decided to spend more time with her.
“People come to see her all the time,” Houser says, smiling fondly at the thought of her subject. She says that going to visit Ellis never fails to put her in a good mood, even when she’s had a difficult day or is very tired. “I’ve talked to other people and she does that same thing for them, just by her nature.”
Aside from enjoying her time with her subject, Houser’s time with Ellis has allowed her to think more critically about the way younger generations treat the elderly. Ellis breaks the “old person” stereotype so strongly, showing people that aging isn’t something to be feared and that elderly people are not to be pitied.
“The very first day I met her,” Houser recalls, “there was a connection between her [Ellis] and her former students. She really is the antithesis of how people stereotype old people.”
In spite of her age, Ellis only has to take one pill before she goes to bed at night and the only reason she has care is because she’s blind.
Houser wants her BFA project will allow people to assess their lives when they see the pictures of Ellis. She says she hopes elderly people will reconsider how they’re living their lives currently and that younger people with think about how they want to live when they get older. Houser hopes Ellis’s liveliness, spontaneity and loving nature will challenge people to live their own lives to the fullest.
In the future, Houser plans on continuing to develop her skills as a photo journalist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she will be working on visual story telling. She would like her photos to tell the stories she works on and wants people to learn more about the world from them.
Houser’s senior thesis will be on display in the Marian Center for the Photographic Arts on April 29.