Making a House a Home: Family Portraits with Allison Ragsdale

The last time Pauline Ellis participated in a family photo, she was two years old. After getting married, having a daughter of her own and moving to Durango, Ellis first saw Allison Ragsdale’s work at the Durango Recreational Center. “I thought, if I ever wanted a family portrait, I would look Allison up,” Ellis shared.

Ellis’s work for the United States Forest Service brought her to Durango. With a degree in civil engineering, Ellis is now the partnership coordinator for the San Juan National Forest, which relies on many partners to help care for the forest.

Ellis married her husband, Fred, in 1996, who also works for the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and fuels technician. They met through mutual friends while Fred was living in Georgia and Ellis was in Arizona. The night before they were going on a backpacking trip with friends through the Smoky Mountains, a hurricane ripped through the area. “We weren’t sure we’d be able to make the trip, but we were able to hike through downed trees,” remembered Ellis, who has been with the Forest Service for 35 years. “It was fun.”

Ellis and Fred’s daughter, Brooke, graduated from high school earlier this year. She wanted her senior portraits taken by Allison, which came with a complimentary family session. “We were so pleased with those pictures,” Ellis said of the senior portraits. “It was wonderful. My daughter tends to be pretty shy, and Allison, in a nice, unassuming way, was able to get these fabulous pictures of her. I was afraid she’d look the same in every picture and not smile, but she was able to get these wonderful poses of her.”

They took advantage of the family portrait opportunity when her father, who lives in southern California, visited during Christmas last year. Ellis’ mother had passed away, and with her father getting older, Ellis wanted to capture their family memories. “Like many other families for years, we’ve talked about doing a family portrait,” Ellis admitted. “Other than a free portrait for our church directory, we haven’t done pictures.”

Ellis found that Allison was able to work magic with her stoic father and two small dogs. “She was able to get my dad to smile,” marveled Ellis. “She’s amazing with animals, she was amazing with my senior father, she was great with my daughter and with my camera-shy husband. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

Matt and Allison’s assistance didn’t end after the photo sessions. “We have so little experience with professional photography,” Ellis explained, “This is where we appreciated both Matt and Allison. Matt spent so much time with us in the studio, selecting the photos and the displays. They came out to our house and helped us find the right place in our home, and hung the photos for us. There was never any hard sell whatsoever. They just followed up the photo shoot with a session to show us the pictures, the different products available and let us select what suited our family the most.”

Ellis saw not only Matt’s expertise in selecting the perfect portraits, but how those portraits personalized their recently remodeled home. “I’m not good at designing or decorating,” Ellis demurred. “Most things that hang on the wall are pieces of my life. Having those photos there just captures everything we wanted about making our house a home.”

Now, Brooke has moved to Washington State for college, and her parents are facing an empty nest, albeit a wonderfully decorated one. “I think my husband is going to spend a lot of time staring at her pictures and pining for her,” Ellis explained, “It will help ease the transition of empty nesting.”

Originally published in the November 2015 issue of Durango Neighbors Magazine.

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