Although the late photographer Helen Montgomery-Drysdale passed away three years ago, her legacy has lived on through her work, especially in Del Mar. Maintaining the longtime Del Mar resident’s legacy has become the mission of her life partner of 47 years, retired cabaret singer Dayna Carroll.
Curated by the Del Mar Historical Society, a collection of Montgomery-Drysdale’s work is currently on display at Southfair in Del Mar.
“I want to keep her memory alive,” said 88-year-old Carroll during an interview at her Del Mar home. “I’ve always been an admirer of her work and continue to be an admirer of her work.”
Montgomery-Drysdale left behind thousands of prints, proof sheets and negatives that nearly fills an entire room in the Del Mar home that she and Carroll shared.
Specializing in black-and-white print photography, Montgomery-Drysdale’s work has been exhibited across the country and around the world.
From Hollywood celebrities to everyday people, Montgomery-Drysdale captured people and places in the San Diego region and beyond. Her collection includes images of film and stage stars such as Ginger Rogers, Carol Channing, Dorothy McGuire, Burt Lancaster and Tab Hunter, as well as jazz legends like Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton.
“She had a real knack for capturing special moments in people’s lives in various situations,” said Walter Reger, Carroll’s younger brother. “She carried her camera around all the time.”
Montgomery-Drysdale was also well known for her behind-the-scene shots at the Del Mar Racetrack, as well as her documentary photo series.
She photographed homeless people in major U.S. cities, including New York and San Diego, and abroad in France, Italy and China. She also documented severely handicapped, abused and mentally challenged children.
“Her work is a composite of the world we live in,” Carroll said.
“She felt like black and white captured reality and emotion a lot better than color did,” Reger added. “She just felt it was more honest and real.”
With Carroll’s assistance and final approval, the exhibit was installed by Wendy Michaletz and Tina Yazzie, co-owners of San Diego-based ARTastic Custom Framing. Michaletz and Yazzie have framed and installed several photographic shows for Montgomery-Drysdale and Carroll over the years.
Installed mid-June, the display has changed periodically to showcase Montgomery-Drysdale’s diverse collection of work, including her Americana series and photos of the Del Mar Racerack and Hollywood celebrities and musicians.
“We went off of the idea of knowing who Helen was and what she liked,” Yazzie said. “We were lucky enough over the years to hear the stories about who she met. It was always fascinating.
“She had a great eye for capturing a moment.”
Southfair is located at 2010 Jimmy Durante Boulevard in Del Mar.