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Review: An American Family: Three Decades with the McGarveys

February 12, 2010

Searching for a photojournalistic story, Pam Spaulding approached John and Judy McGarvey and asked if she could photograph them with their newborn son for one year.  A former journalist himself, John had a hard time saying no, so Judy reluctantly agreed to a one month trial.  Things worked out and the project continued for the full year.

Since Pam was a new mother herself, the two women formed a friendship and kept in touch about the progress of their children.  Thirty years later, Pam was still at it, photographing the family for big occasions and small.

Those 30 years worth of photographs have been pared down for 221 page book, An American Family: Three Decades with the McGarveys by Pam Spaulding.  Pam Spaulding couldn’t have chosen a better subject – the photographs in this books show a glimpse of American family life at it’s best.   The McGarveys went on to have two more children and, by all accounts, were remarkable parents who raised great kids.

The book is divided into 5 sections, with one section devoted to each member of the family.  Some of the pictures are of ordinary days and some are of once in a lifetime events – like marriage proposals and graduations.  A few are very touching.  Two photos that are placed side by side are particularly moving – one is of a young Morgan (the middle child) holding his grandfather’s hand while walking with him; the other is of Morgan as a young man helping the same grandfather up some steps.  Those photos hit rather close to home for me, so they brought tears to my eyes.

I enjoyed reading about the McGarveys and taking a peek into their lives, but I probably won’t pick up the book and look through it again. You can see some of the photos in this piece on NPR.

I won this book in a contest on The Book Studio.   I am an Amazon Associate.
23 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2010 5:32 am

    This would be a book that interests me. I’ve always worked with Americans but haven’t have the opportunity to actually catch a glimpse of their family lives. Thanks for the review, Kathy!

  2. February 12, 2010 6:25 am

    This seems like a great book to check out of the library. Photography (as you know) interests me, but I never seem to take photos of people.

  3. February 12, 2010 6:25 am

    This sounds like a wonderful book. Reminds me a bit of the British (I think) show Seven Up (again, I think) that interviewed the same children every seven years from the time they were young (maybe seven?). I should have googled it before posting…

  4. February 12, 2010 8:09 am

    How interesting to get a glimpse into a family’s life through photos. I can see that it would be enjoyable but probably not something you’d pick up again and again.

  5. February 12, 2010 8:38 am

    I agree with you and Julie. I love looking at family pictures. But if I don’t know the people, probably once would be enough.

  6. February 12, 2010 8:47 am

    I’m not sure I would want a photographer following me around and taking photos, but then again, I’m camera shy. I’d prefer to be the photographer in this situation. Thanks for the review. Interesting concept for a book.

  7. February 12, 2010 8:49 am

    As usual, a great review. Thanks for the link.

  8. February 12, 2010 9:09 am

    I love books like this!!! How wonderful. I wish I had won a copy! : )

  9. February 12, 2010 11:02 am

    Sounds kind of cool but I’m not sure it’s anything I’d really be too interested in unless I knew the family in some way.

  10. February 12, 2010 12:57 pm

    I loved those pictures, thanks for including the link. These are the types of photography books I love. Those two pictures you mentioned, with the grandchild and grandfather, were tear inducing.

  11. February 12, 2010 1:52 pm

    I love books like this. I suppose that is my nosiness coming out. I just love to read about other people’s lives and see lots of piccies.

  12. February 12, 2010 2:46 pm

    The photos sound fabulous (especially the side-by-side grandson/grandfather set). In concept it reminds me a bit of The Oxford Project book.

  13. stacybuckeye permalink
    February 12, 2010 2:57 pm

    What an original idea. I’m with Serena, though, I wouldn’t want to be part of the family being photographed!

  14. February 12, 2010 3:09 pm

    This reminds me why I scrapbook…especially digitally now. I think I would enjoy this book, but agree it might be more of a library choice for me. But if it’s cool photos, I might have to buy too. Thanks for the recommendation!

  15. February 12, 2010 3:15 pm

    This sounds like an interesting coffee table style book. You may only look at it a few times and that would be enough.

  16. February 12, 2010 3:29 pm

    Oh my goodness, I must get to the library’s website to see if they have this. It gives me chills. Can you even imagine what it would be like to have something like this for your own family? What an amazing legacy to have for your kids and grandkids.

  17. February 12, 2010 7:23 pm

    Wow! That’s a really touching idea for a book! I want to catch a glimpse too of the photos. Thanks for the link!

  18. February 12, 2010 7:45 pm

    I love the idea of this book!

  19. February 13, 2010 1:24 am

    I guess you never really know how long a project will take! 🙂

  20. February 15, 2010 12:59 pm

    I don’t often get the chance to look at photo books, but this one sounds very interesting. I may have to check it out at the bookstore. Thanks for sharing your opinion on it!

  21. February 17, 2010 8:41 am

    Sounds like a neat idea, though I don’t think it’s the kind of book I would buy or even borrow from the library.

  22. February 24, 2010 4:40 pm

    Ooh, I’m so glad you liked this one! Thanks for reviewing it.

  23. March 9, 2010 3:42 pm

    Again, I’m commenting way late (your mailbox is gonna be flooded with me today!) but I’m so glad you mentioned this! Country Living magazine did a feature on this story a few months ago and then I saw it on NPR as well. I’ve been meaning to get my hands on it, and you just reminded me!

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