I’m finally getting around to posting images from a very personal project I did over the Fourth of July weekend, something that had been a year in the making. Hailey and I were in Los Alamos, New Mexico for the Reitzug Family Reunion, a once-every-threeish years kinda event that centers on my mom’s incredible family of 8 siblings (she has three sisters and four brothers) plus all their kids, grandkids and now great-grandkids.
The Reitzugs, in many ways, are a classic American story — a family of German immigrants who sought opportunity in Indiana in the 1950s. My grandparents endured WWII in East Prussia, as well as the economic difficulties immediately after in West Germany where they settled. Knowing this backstory — and seeing where the family is today — is part of what makes these reunions so extraordinary.
This family never ceases to amaze and humble me with their togetherness, their charm, their love and their deep friendship with one another. I’ve oriented this post on the siblings, the eight children of Nikolaus and Elisabeth Reitzug, my grandparents. My next post will open it up to the fun and shenanigans we had with my cousins and their kids.
Above is my Uncle Mat (left), my Omi (center) and Uncle Rick (right).
This is Omi, my loving and kind grandmother. As I schemed out this portrait project over the last few months, this image of her was exactly what I was hoping for. A portrait of the Reitzug spirit — confident, charming, fun loving, good natured and compassionate. When it was Omi’s turn to step in front of the white seamless backdrop, she hammed it up a bit and gave me that smile she’s known for. This was about midway into the shoot, and by then nearly the entire family was gathering around to watch, laugh with and tease one another. It truly lightened the mood and made for an unconventional family portrait session.
Above are the two oldest siblings, my Uncle Henry (in the left photo) and Aunt Monika (in the right photo) with their spouses, Anne and Ed, respectively. Henry is my godfather and did a reading at our wedding. He’s an incredible individual who has volunteered with Northwest Medical Team, an organization that does similar work as Doctors Without Borders. Last summer he was in Darfur for a few weeks.
Monika and Ed live in Massachusetts and have four amazing sons spread out around the world. You’ll see a great shot of three of them in the next post.
Above left is my mom, Angelika, with my brother Ben. At right is my Uncle Rick with his wife Mary. Rick is a professor and is a passionate advocate for the rebuilding of New Orleans. He’s made several trips down there to volunteer in the clean up and rebuilding efforts.
Continuing down the line we have my Uncle Mat (left, with his wife Connie) and our reunion hosts, my Aunt Maria and her husband Bill. Both Mat and Maria were frequent visitors in Denver when I was growing up, so its always fun to reconnect with them at these events. Maria’s oldest son Alex is also a passionate photographer and he spent a weekend with Hailey and I in 2008.
Also last year, when Hailey and I went to Seattle, we were able to have dinner with Mat and Connie one night. They’re an extraordinary couple: two people you could chat with for hours. At this reunion, we dined out again with them, this time with their son Randy and his wife Amy, as well as Peter, one of Monika’s sons (are you confused yet? That’s really my goal). It was an epic two-hour dinner at my favorite place in Santa Fe, Cafe Pasqual. Look it up if you’re ever down there.
Moving along, the seventh sibling is Marcy, pictured here with her husband Gustavo and son Jacob. Gustavo is Ecuadorian, and at the last reunion, he gave us some perspective on the country we were about to visit in spring. This go around, we let him know how that trip went. I haven’t blogged much about Ecuador, mostly because I set the blog up more than a year later. It’s where we photographed the tanagers. Anyhow, Gustavo is always the star during the traditional Reitzug Reunion soccer game, although this year (sorry Gustavo) he might have been shown up by my cousin Stela. (Once again, are you keeping track of all these names?).
Finally, there is my Uncle Chris, the youngest in the family. He’s pictured above with his daughter Emily, and at right is his wife Sherri and their son Zach. I love that shot of them. For some perspective, Chris is a year older than my Uncle Henry’s oldest son Joe. There are pictures of the two of them, uncle and nephew, playing in the sandbox together. Again, I know that this must be confusing … all the more reason to do this kind of project and bundle it into an interactive family tree so that it makes sense. Not that I’m promoting a new product from the folks at Tanager Photography and HeyDay Creative or anything—
Chris deserves a huge thank you. On Saturday evening, his last evening at the reunion, he asked if I was going to set up my photo booth and do this project. I’d been on the fence about it all night — people were all spread out, and the kids were all ecstatic at the pile of Legos Maria had provided at her house. Bottom line, I didn’t want to bother people and I was psyching my self out. The whole project seemed overwhelming, and I was having too much fun just conversing with folks.
But Chris and Amy (my sister-in-law) gave me a nudge and offered to help set up and wrangle people together. It got the project off the ground, and I was able to photograph the few people leaving the next day. On Sunday morning, after that initial ice-breaker, I set up the studio all over again and everything just clicked. Most of the images in this blog and the next post occured in a one hour span before church.
So an enormous thank you to Chris and Amy for the big nudge to get going on this project. And a huge thank you to the entire Reitzug clan for diving head first into it. I really appreciate it, and hopefully, when the family tree and bound photo book is all done in the autumn, the Reitzug family will, too.