Holly Ramsey Dailey
August 11, 1949 – September 6, 1993
When my wife Holly was about to take her last course of chemotherapy, she wanted some photographs taken while she still had her hair. Something “normal” for Henry and me to remember her by.
Unbeknownst to me, she had called our friend and renowned photographer Judy Olausen and scheduled a session in Judy’s Minneapolis studio. It had been a priority for Holly to do the dying thing well, to serve as a good example for our friends. So of course, if a photographer were to be involved, it had to be Judy Olausen.
Judy had become known worldwide for her unique approach to portraiture. National Geographic Director of Photography Kent Kobersteen wrote, “Being photographed is an unnatural act, and the best photographers develop a way to get people to forget they are being photographed. She has made an art out of that, and it shows in her work.” She’s a keen observer and is able to communicate the subtleties of a sitter’s personality.
Judy’s wide range of subjects include celebrities such as Laurie Anderson, Andy Warhol, and Prince Charles and Princess Diana; corporate leaders; and average people from farmers to factory workers.
Hasselblad FORUM named Judy one of the ten best photographers in the world, and her photographs were included in a touring exhibition curated by Hasselblad. Her work has been profiled in Adweek and honored by the New York Art Directors Club and Communication Arts. Preceding the publication of her best-selling and influential book, Mother, published in 1996 (which broke a sales record at The New York Times), PBS aired a national broadcast of a half-hour feature in 1995 called “Mother as Coffee Table.”
Judy Olausen’s work has been shown in exhibitions at the Walker Art Center, the Imagine Gallery, Imprimatur Gallery, and the University of St. Thomas. It has been featured in numerous magazines including Ms, People, HOW, Minnesota Monthly, Minnesota Alumni Magazine, Harper’s, Advertising Age, U.S. News and World Report, and Adweek.
I don’t recall Judy ever billing me for that photo session, yet it is one of the kindest and most important things that anyone ever did for us. My memory of Holly is shaped not by her cadaverous appearance at the end, but by Judy’s photographs of her when she still looked healthy and, to my eyes, beautiful. I will always be thankful.
Here are some examples of Judy’s work:
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