A 92nd Trip Around the Sun | Fire Island Family Photography

When Emma inquired about photographing her grandmother’s 92nd birthday party, she honestly had me at “Fire Island” (Fire Island is a little island of beach communities off Long Island with no roads - you take a ferry there and then walk or bike to get around) - little did I know that this would be one of my favorite sessions to date.

Emma’s grandmother, Lillian, was returning to her summer home on Fire Island (called ”Bay Windows”) to celebrate her birthday along with her three children and their families. Lillian’s husband, Maurice (who passed away in 2013), developed the town of Dunewood on Fire Island, where they have had a summer home since the ‘50’s. Lillian’s children also all have homes in Dunewood, and the family has spent most summers out there since the community was first developed.

Lillian’s lifelong passion is classical music, especially the opera. She has joked that she wants to die at the Met Opera! When Emma was a child, her grandparents commissioned three contemporary composers to write new works for Yo Yo Ma, Emmanuelle Ax and the NY Philharmonic. After Lillian’s children went to college, she ran the Islip Arts Council for many years and organized and fundraised for the free concerts in Hecksher Park (among many other music events). At Lillian’s party, t-shirts from Hecksher Park concerts were hung up around the house as decor.

Emma’s grandfather used to tell his grandchildren a story that Lillian was actually a mermaid who he found on the beach, but since she gave up her fins, she couldn't swim very well (she would never go in the ocean except on very calm days). Evidence of the mermaid story is seen in Lillian’s Dunewood house, from art work featuring mermaids to a photoshopped photograph of her younger self with a mermaid tail.

The birthday celebration was such a relaxed, lovely gathering of family and friends. It was a privilege and a joy to capture it for this family.

Happy birthday, Lillian!


Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer or lifestyle videographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to document your family, small business or event, please contact her for more information.