Mary Frances, John Marshall & Thomas J

Pursley Family

June 10, 2017

Clover, South Carolina


Whoa! That is a long blog title.. huh? (Kinda like this blog) But what a great one. What fantastic names. They just roll of the tongue great and what classic names as well. We live in a society of new parents trying to come up with clever names it seems… to be different. (Which is cool at times) But I love the simplicity of these names. I feel they are very southern too. Like you could pull them straight from an old Southern novel. But they are also family names… so maybe that is why.

Mary Frances is named after her PawPaw Pursley’s Mama.  John Marshall is a III. He is named after his Daddy – Johnny and his PawPaw – John. So they have a Sr, Jr and III – John Marshall Pursley. But the kid’s Mama – Mary Kate… was also telling me her Grandfather is named John and her brother is also John Marshall! Mary Kate’s maiden name was Thomas before marrying Johnny. And her Mama’s name is Judith. Hence, Thomas J. Ta-da! What a unique story for all the names.


This is Mary Frances – age 6, John Marshall – age 4 and Thomas J – age 2.

But let me go back and tell why I’m writing this photograph blog. Their Mama contacted me wanting me to shoot some photographs of just them. But she didn’t necessarily just want the typical posed portraits. She wanted photographs of them in their elements. Just them being them. Being what 2, 4, and 6 year old’s are. So that’s when I thought… here is my chance to do a documentary photography shoot. I’ve been wanting to do it for awhile now. I guess you could say I do that style when I shoot my family or nephews. Maybe even with other people but I have never been hired to do it. And I don’t believe I have ever done it 100%. Meaning…

Lifestyle and documentary photography are similar but with documentary the photographer does not involve themselves in any moment nor any shot. There is no input from me. So for instance, while I may photograph my-almost-three-year-old nephew in his many young boy moments, I still have said “Hey Jasey, do that again” or “Hey look at me bud!”… things like that. But with documentary, you either get the moment live or you just don’t get it. There is a challenge in that because in a lot of ways it makes you become a less vocal photographer on a shoot vs always showing, helping, instructing and what-not. So with any of these photographs, I never told them to do anything. They just were themselves without instruction. I literally was just the girl there with a camera.

Document life for their future… and the future.

I have several photographers I really like and admire that I follow on Instagram and follow in the blog world. A few of those photographers shoot documentary style. Even one of those is a wedding photographer. Think about that one for a second. I believe he said out of the whole wedding day… only about 10 minutes of those are posed. (Wedding group shots) He doesn’t create a scene for anything else. No details, no nothing. He doesn’t touch anything. It is incredible. Fascinating. The photographs are just amazing.

I believe with children or just a family setting these photographs come out beautiful. There is also the human element to it to where I just love watching children be children. It goes beyond a “for hire” gig. At no point does it feel like a job. Are you kidding me? THIS. IS. FUN. (which photography never feels like a job to me anyways. I hope it never does.)

Now lets catch up with the kiddos…

So part of their element, their life is their PawPaw and Daddy’s shop. When you are born into a racing family like the Pursley’s… it’s just how it is. So they have spent many days… many hours in and around that shop. I’m sure many laughs have happened there, many bumps and bruises, prolly sweet hugs from PawPaw John, learn what a cuss word was and maybe they have pissed their Daddy off a time or two by getting into something they ain’t suppose to be in! But those are the moments that make the memories. And I’m sure many will always stay with them. Plus, I mean it is a race car shop. How cool is that as a kid? Very cool.

We started off the day at the shop. The kids were already buzzing like bees when I got there… well Mary Frances and John Marshall were. Thomas J wasn’t having his best Saturday morning. Ya know… we all have those days even as adults. Even the little ones do as well. I think he lightened up a little towards the end. I hung around for an hour or so and then the kids had to head home so Thomas J could get a nap in because the kids had a big afternoon planned of family visits and two birthday parties! Whew!


So fast forward to the later in the day (a little after 6:30 pm) we piled up in the Rhino and headed to the creek so the kids could go play. The creek is a favorite of theirs. It is a fun place to play, adventure and hang out as a family. I wish I had one of my own. Little slice of heaven.

Heck, the ride down to the creek was just as fun. They have tons of land and it’s a fun adventure getting there. I was happy to see some of their family land because I had never been on that side of the fence before. And just listening to the kiddos talk along the way was sweet in itself. They doted on their Daddy… on how sweet he is to them. Daw! (and they discussed licking the salt block that is there for the deer. I love kids.)

“At the end of the day… your feet should be dirty, your hair should be messy and your eyes sparkling.”

I think what energy they had left in those little bodies of theirs, they got a good portion of it out at the creek. Thomas J was, for sure, in great spirits this time around. John Marshall was the daredevil of them all. He was the only willing to get wet aka sit in the creek. Little Thomas J keep running up and down the little sand hill. “Mommy watch this”… he said. So precious. Mary Frances served meatballs with noodles. Her imagination and words just win me over. I’ve only been around her just a few times in my life and each time… she has been so full of character and wit.


After we all got dirty and wet feet, we piled back in the Rhino to head back towards the house. There was pickin’ that needed to be done in the garden before supper, baths and bedtime.

That garden… though.

You can imagine how much I loved it. It is their family garden. A garden where all 5 members of the family take part in. I knew they had plowed it up back in the early Spring but didn’t realize how big it was. I learned that it was Mary Kate’s Daddy’s garden. Because I noticed how red the dirt was but it was really good dirt. The kind you could dig in. And we all know (well if you live around here) that our Carolina red dirt can be a pain to do any kind of digging or gardening in. But she told me her Daddy had worked that dirt for many years before he passed. He loved to garden and gave that dirt some hard work and TLC before they starting giving it their own.

Plant dreams, pull weeds and grow a happy life.

Those kids love that garden. Mary Frances did the roll call of everything they have growing. She helped her Mama pick cucumbers that were ready. Thomas J picked a tomato that wasn’t ready. Haha. But he thought he was helping out. So cute. His Mama taught him they have to be red like the color of his tractor before he can pick one. I’m sure he will eventually get the hang of it.

I won’t lie… that was my favorite part of the day. I love gardening. But seeing Mary Kate with her kids out there made me think of my own Mama. I’ve made many pictures of my Mama working in her own vegetable garden and flower gardens. I love the times she and I have spent outdoors talking about and looking at plants, flowers… the garden. We do it a lot. So to be able to make photographs for someone else doing the same thing, man it is priceless. And watching those kids was EVERYTHING. Being in the garden with her kids is important to her. I get it. It is indeed important.


And to end…

What makes this shoot so enjoyable for me is that their Mama loves the photographs. I sent her the complete gallery Tuesday morning. (And there are a lot of photographs in there. Oops.) I know she appreciates them but even better.. she will get some of them printed. You see she isn’t a social media person or “mama”. She doesn’t do Facebook and all that. Her first reaction was to start picking ones she wants to put on her walls in their home. HOME. It wasn’t to immediately upload them all to social media and share online. That is cool to me. BECAUSE NO ONE DOES THAT ANYMORE. Just being real here. Prints are everything. Frames are everything. Seeing your memories in real time… in your hands are everything.

So thank you Mary Kate for wanting to me shoot photographs of your kids in their own little world. It was a pleasure. Something I’m very thankful for… and can’t wait to do again!

Documentary photography is special. It needs a market around these parts. Not sure how to approach that yet. I don’t think people really understand what it is until they see it. I think coordinated outfits, cute poses and perfect locations are great and important. And I will continue to do those. But there is something to be said about seeing one in their own moments just being themselves. Just being natural. These photographs will allow you to have conversations one day down the road and they will immediately bring back a memory.  A great memory.

Oh yeah, the extra bonus… I came home with some goodies!


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