Photographing illness, aging, dying and funerals
I’ve wanted to write about his for a while but didn’t think it’d be very popular. Then yesterday I started watching After Life. The videos are so important to him. And so are photos.
Of course photographing illness can be a wonderful thing, to show where we came back from, what we overcame, because our scars, our history is part of us, it doesn’t always make us stronger, sometimes it makes us softer, more compassionate, or more fragile but that’s ok too.
I’ve talked before about working for Butterfly Wish Network and offering memories to families with a child living with a life-threatening illness. Some recover and celebrate this achievement. Some live with a difficult condition, some have a short life.
Last year I was honoured to do a photoshoot for a family where dad had one month to live and a three small children. we had fun, captured the kids playing, the parents together, kids and parents, grand parents, a n afternoon in the garden, real life. Precious memories.
A man booked me to take photos of him that he could give to his children and grandchildren. He wasn’t particularly comfortable in front of the camera, but he had decided he wanted them to have photos of him that really looked like him- not posed, not photoshopped, not strained, just him as his family knows him- for the time in the future when he was gone. He didn’t have a decent photo of his parents to remember them by, he said, and that made him sad. So we chatted and took photos of him, some of him laughing, thinking, sitting, walking, talking to me
Recently I’ve worked for charities who work with elders. That’s when we realise that the ideal of young, slim is beautiful is so flawed. How beautiful are these faces, how tender these hands! And it’s the details that make these people so dear to our hearts: the paper-like feel of grandma’s hand, the way granddad falls asleep reading the paper, my godmother’s laughter so youthful and crystalline. It’s not just about making memories for when they’re gone, it’s celebrating them while they’re alive.
By sheer coincidence, this morning, chatting to a sales person on the phone about what I do, they told me about this song: Photographs. Here it is.
The hardest shoot I’ve done was the funeral of one of my brides, not a year after her wedding. her bouquet was the same. I shot the whole thing in tears, for her little son to have memories.
Photographing illness, aging, dying and funerals isn’t a cheerful subject, but through the years I’ve seen how important it is. We tend to shy away from difficult times but they are part of everyone’s life, there is no escaping them, so let’s embrace them as part of us. Have you seen the film Collateral Beauty? There are silver linings everywhere. Let’s enjoy the whole of life, make wonderful memories, and capture them too.
PS the top photo is from a trip to visit my Italian family, the last time I saw my great aunt. I wasn’t a pro photographer then but it’s precious to see her still.