Following Suit

For Bob Williams, family photos are a part of Life

Bob Williams just can't stop himself.

In 1953, he took photos of his newborn son David every day of the child's first year. Those 365 shots appeared in Life magazine in November 1954. In 1960, the shutterbug started snapping photos of his daughter Kristin each year on her birthday, decked out in a woman's bathing suit, and didn't stop till she turned 16. Those pictures and an accompanying article ran in People magazine on August 30, 1976, and again in the magazine's 1989 anniversary edition; the article was chosen as one of the best the publication had run in its first 15 years.

Even then, Williams didn't retire that bathing suit, a medium-sized latex one-piece he bought at Goldsmith's downtown. Instead, beginning in 1990, granddaughter Katelyn stepped into the garment's ample openings -- or was tucked into them until she could stand -- and gramps continued the tradition he'd launched with Katelyn's mother. Each January, near the girl's birthday, he'd move the living room sofa, take a painting off the wall, and create a clean background for Katelyn to pose against.

Now that series of shots is complete, with the infant morphing to big-eyed toddler, snaggle-toothed girl, leggy adolescent mugging in sunglasses, and finally to the willowy 16-year-old she is today.

Kristin Ammons says she and her daughter both had mixed feelings about the project. "Sometimes I couldn't wait," she recalls, "and other times I'd say, 'I've gotta do what?' I know my friends thought it was neat that I had a photographer for a dad." As for Katelyn, her mother adds, "She thought it was cool to see the progression of the photos. And it was a chance to spend time with her grandparents."

Although People declined the photos of Katelyn -- "they have a new format, mostly celebrities," says Williams with a touch of disdain -- he's proud of the series, and now has photographic designs on Katelyn's sister Ellery, "but I can't say what just yet."

Will it involve that 46-year-old bathing suit? No, says the retired photo editor of The Commercial Appeal. "I figure I'll pass that on to Katelyn and maybe some day she'll keep the [tradition] going." 


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