A high-school senior portrait of Shelley Bigelow’s daughter, Blakely, rose from the ashes to greet her as she surveyed the scene of her home just devastated by a raging five-alarm fire near Manton, Mich. It was just about the only item that survived the fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
The print of her daughter was the lone ray of light in a black mess of soot, water and ashes that marked the spot where her home once stood.
“The picture was hanging on my office wall on the second floor and it went down through everything to the basement, and there she was looking at me,” recalls Bigelow. “We never found traces of the frame or the glass; just the picture. With seven hours of burning and five departments, the picture still smiled at us after all we went through.”
Judy Gilde photographed Blakely’s senior portrait session about three years ago. The 16×20 wall portrait found in the fire was printed by Gilde on Sunset Photo eSatin Paper, mounted on a dense mount board, framed and placed behind glass. Gilde does just about every type of photography imaginable in this rural area of northern Michigan, and prints her own work with an Epson Stylus Pro 7900.
“Sunset eSatin is our standard paper. When people pick up their photos they think there are three prints stuck together, and it’s just one print; that’s how thick it is,” says Gilde. “I always try to use the best photo papers and products for my work, but I never expected this kind of performance. She does need to have it replaced because the bottom half of it has smoke damage.”
Bigelow plans to keep the print, however, as a memento of a difficult time made somewhat less difficult with the miracle of photography and the print that wouldn’t burn.
“We’ll keep it forever, and we’re happy it survived. Judy told us it would withstand so much, but I didn’t realize how much it would withstand. She stressed how much quality was in the work, and she was right; the color is still brilliant even through the soot,” says Bigelow.