Sad Moments Can be Worth Capturing Too – By Rachel Wallace

by MSO

Funeral photographs can be highly beneficial to the bereaved, helping them after the event is over when there can be a feeling of “what happens now?”

With the changing trends of funerals, photographs can be a good thing.

Some of the most poignant and historically memorable photographs have come from funerals. Think of Cartier Bresson’s photograph of Gandhi’s funeral pyre, the photo of JFK’s son saluting his coffin in Washington 1963, the flag flying at half mast on Buckingham Palace for Diana Princess of Wales. These were state funerals, recorded for historical purposes and posterity but nonetheless they are captured memories of the deceased and of the final occasion in tribute to them.

Not since Victorian times have “ordinary” people booked a formal funeral photographer. Photographs of death have until now been something of a rarity but more recently in the 21st century there has been a proliferation of books and exhibitions about death and this appears to be reflecting a readiness in our society to re-examine our attitudes and approach to dying and death.

The memorial photograph of the deceased was taken in Victorian times for a last visual remembrance of the person, and displayed in the drawing room for all to see. It was a confirmation of someone’s existence, although no longer present, and an acknowledgement and celebration of their life.

Occasionally the photographer took pictures at the funeral, of family groups since this was one of the few occasions when families got together.

Jay Ruby in his book Secure the Shadow says that “In order to accommodate the loss of a loved one we need to celebrate his or her life. Memorializing the deceased with a photograph seems an altogether reasonable means to accomplish that task. The logic of this argument is sufficient that several industries from memorial card manufacturers to photographic tombstone plaque makers, have risen to facilitate these activities.”

Today we have gone one step further with the way we remember someone, Now there are memorial candles, tribute web sites, creations from ashes of the deceased, personalized urns, videos of the ceremony, unique and extraordinary headstones – the list is long, and inventive.

We want the deceased to live on in our hearts, minds and memories and are desperate to hold (sometimes literally) on to a little piece of them.

To some extent photographing a funeral can satisfy this desire but it is not just for sentimental reasons that photographs are taken. Farewell Photography is acutely conscious of the emptiness that comes when the end of life ceremony is over and feels that having a memorial in photographs can be a great service to the bereaved.

Farewell Photography is keen for people to become aware of the healing capabilities of funeral photographs and has first hand experience of the benefits of the Memorial Books she sensitively produces.

Planning a funeral can be a welcome distraction for the newly bereaved but when the ceremony is over the realization that life for most will continue as it was, whilst they must adjust and adapt to their loss, can produce an overwhelming sense of emptiness.

At this time the Memory Book of photographs produced of the funeral and presented afterwards, is a great aid and comfort to the grief stricken. Looking through it evokes memories and details perhaps overlooked by the mourners distracted by their feelings on the day. Equally importantly the book is a great aid in talking about the event. With something tangible to hold and show it becomes an ice breaker in talking about the difficult subject of death and loss.

Our age is an age of images. Photos are taken, shown, put away, stored and shared on computers. Like our life they become transient, a moment in passing. A photograph is a prompt which enables us to hold onto those moments, reflect and remember.

Finally the book itself becomes part of the dead person’s life. It is the closing and final chapter. So much of our lives now are photographed, from pre-birth (the scan) to birth, childhood, adulthood, marriage, anniversaries and celebrations that it is really only natural to complete the story.

Videoing and webstreaming funerals is, interestingly, currently more acceptable and popular than taking photographs perhaps because a video camera can be left to run during the service and is therefore seen as less intrusive. But with discretion and respect Rachel believes a photographer can do their job and become part of the ceremony. The benefit of the book of photographs is it can be held, viewed, talked over, put down, picked up later.

Over the last five years Farewell Photography has seen a growth in the number of requests for funeral photographs and is convinced that it will soon become as common a request as wedding photographs. Already the company is appearing on Funeral Directory listings and feels it is a service that should be offered by all Funeral Directors.

Article written for by Rachel Wallace

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