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The healing power of nature

Flower photos help daughter connect to mom with Alzheimer’s

By M.J. Ellington | Photos by Elmore DeMott

This pink dogwood blossom, shot in rain in Florence, took hours of waiting for just the right light and shows results of being patient, something that Elmore DeMott recommends for even novice photographers.

What started out as a trip of curiosity to take a few photographs led one Alabama woman to a professional career as a nature photographer.

The career, in turn, led Elmore DeMott to a personal commitment to capture an image of a different special flower each day to share with her mother, Elmore Inscoe, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

The convergence of DeMott’s sophisticated nature and plantation burn photographs and “Flowers for Mom,” her ongoing daily photographic gift to her mother, will be on display in September at a Tuscaloosa art gallery. Proceeds from sales of her work will benefit Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that advocates for clean water.

DeMott began photographing one flower each day as a way to have a daily personal connection with her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. The result is a topic that draws on Inscoe’s fond memories but also acts as a link to today through her daughter’s work.

DeMott said the discipline of achieving the perfect image of a new flower each day for her mother has been a challenge, but she said the impact on people outside her family has been a wonderful surprise.

“Never did I dream that ‘Flowers for Mom’ would be so far-reaching. People literally send me pictures and ideas from all over the world,” DeMott says. The daily contact with her mom is important and the search for a different flower, a different angle, the perfect light in which to photograph have made DeMott look at things differently now.

“Much to the chagrin of my youngest daughter, I like to set a background as much as the foreground. So doing can take a photo from average to amazing. Unlike furniture, one cannot move a tree, so there is a lot of luck involved in having things that will line up and give a great background,” DeMott wrote in a “Flowers for Mom,” blog post on her website. The particular flower she refers to in the post is a bright pink dogwood tree blossom captured in the rain.

Foxglove at Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum, property that DeMott’s outdoors-loving parents bought and developed outside Wetumpka.

Gleaning from the gardens

DeMott’s mother is an outdoorswoman from Montgomery who, with her husband, Jim Inscoe, bought and expanded the private Jasmine Hill Gardens near Wetumpka. The previous owners designed their garden as a private tribute to the flowers and statuary of Greece.

The Inscoes expanded the gardens and opened them for public access. Mrs. Inscoe also taught her daughter the art involved in taking care of and arranging beautiful flowers so much a part of the gardens.

Now, DeMott says her father, the family flower expert, gives her ideas for her mom’s flower photos and suggests places where she might want to check for a blossom. “It is fun now to walk through Jasmine Hill with my father. It gives me the greatest joy to talk about flowers with him in a positive way,” she says.

DeMott said she is touched by the feedback she gets from others. “In a positive way, it has been a beautiful thing to share through flowers, through art and speaking about the challenges our family is going through with Alzheimer’s disease,” DeMott says. “No matter what your hardships, you can share through flowers.”

How the girl who grew up in a nature-loving family evolved from a Vanderbilt University math graduate and banker into a photographer – who chronicles images in nature with a different angle – is a story with twists and turns that come together as art.

“Nature photography has always been my favorite because I’m outside,” says DeMott, who loved spending time outdoors on the property her family owned in Elmore County. One day, her husband, Miles DeMott, suggested she go with him to a controlled plantation burn and take her camera.

Before long, DeMott’s early photo exhibits of pine trees and her controlled burn fire shots began to take their place in gallery showings, and her career as a nature photographer took off. The controlled burn photographs, sometimes printed on aluminum, give a dramatic shimmering backdrop for the orange flames licking the undergrowth beneath towering pine trees.

DeMott still loves photographing pine trees she remembers from childhood. She and her husband are co-authors of a book of her pine tree photographs, “Chulee – Spirit of the Pine Tree.”  She also drew on the experiences as a member of a quail-hunting family for the dramatic images in her controlled fire burn photographs.

Decades ago, the men in the family and their friends went quail hunting. In that era, women did not hunt quail, but the practice has opened for women in recent years, she says. Burning the undergrowth on quail plantations enables hunters to walk without obstacles, see clearly where they are going and enjoy nature. The controlled burns remove undergrowth that could catch fire rapidly with more damaging results if the source were from natural causes.

DeMott said she hopes her photographs encourage people to take time to see the beauty in nature as a way to rejuvenate. “Beauty is all around us. Seek it,” she says.

For information about Elmore DeMott’s photography: elmoredemott.com. For information about Jasmine Hill Gardens outside Wetumpka: jasminehill.org.

Rose from a friend’s garden photographed in Montgomery.

“Flowers for Mom” will be the focus of a fundraiser from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sept. 14 at Harrison Galleries, 2315 University Blvd., Tuscaloosa.

The public is invited to the fundraiser to benefit the nonprofit Black Warrior Riverkeeper, which works to protect the endangered habitat along the Black Warrior River and its tributaries in 17 counties. The exhibit will be at the gallery through Sept. 21.