How do you photograph a funeral?

In British culture we seem very averse to showing emotion or embracing and remembering that part of our life – death.

On this topic, one of my university lecturers spoke of a time she was asked to photograph a Sikh funeral. Despite her reluctance and the families persistence she eventually did. The purpose was not to document a families pain but to celebrate the life of the departed.

I feel British funerals, whether they’re agnostic or Christian, are not yet at the point of being open to the presence of a camera at a funeral.

Today we say farewell and lay to rest Joan Stevens. Joan, being my wife’s nan who practically raised her, was also my children’s last surviving great grandparent. Being something of a hobbyist florist, my mother-in-law wanted to prepare the flowers. This became a family occasion and a chance to start celebrating the life we will gather to remember later today.

The last photograph

The photograph below was taken of my wife’s nan, Joan Stevens, a week before she passed away.  The image was taken in the hospice where she passed only a week later.  The image continues my photographic exploration.  Today we put her to rest.

The image was taken using a Zero Image 2000 pinhole camera, Ilford Pan F 50 film and a 30 minute exposure.

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24 Redbridge Grove

Art Photobook number four is a bit more personal again and revolves around the miniseries ‘24 Redbridge Grove’. This series of images is part of an ongoing, but not yet published, photo essay, ‘Life Death and Photography’.

The overall goal is to study the human temporality and the role photography has to play in our memories and our experience.

‘24 Redbridge Grove’ contains images from my paternal grandparents family home over 10 years after Nan had passed away and shortly before Grandad moved from here to residential living. The images look at the signs of a life that was as well as a home greatly in need of some TLC and new life.

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Next up binding

Again with its personal nature I wanted my father to see this work for himself before it being published.

10 Paignton Avenue

Art Photobook number three is a bit more personal and revolves around the miniseries ‘10 Paignton Avenue’. This series of images is part of an ongoing, but not yet published, photo essay, ‘Life Death and Photography’.

The overall goal is to study the human temporality and the role photography has to play in our memories and our experience.

‘10 Paignton Avenue’ contains images from my maternal grandparents family home shortly after their deaths and before being sold. The images look at the signs of a life that was as well as a home greatly in need of some TLC and new life.

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Next up the binding!

Given the personal nature of this weeks book I wanted to give a copy to my mother and do it before the publishing of social media posts. Although a series of images she had seen before, seeing them again in this formation was definitely different for her

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10 Paignton Avenue

As part of an on going exploration of the relation between Life, Death and Photography, Andrew photographed the partially cleared home of his late grandparents.

The exploration, in this case, sought to document areas that trigger personal memories. From the living room where the whole family would cram in to for Christmas present opening to the chair the cousins would fight over.

Further to these personal memories come elements which all of us can connect with on a level. The difference between a worn carpet compared to where the bed once stood. The decay as part of a house which was a struggle to keep. The garden which was once a center of great pride, sitting unloved and rotting.

The Revolving Door and a Namesake

During my thoughts and explorations on the subject of Life and Death I have often thought of hospitals and the role they of course play.  Every day people breath their last breath while someone else somewhere is breathing their first.

Over four years ago on the death of my grandmother I couldn’t help but visualise what a beautiful image that scene would have made.  The lights were off, only the soft natural light of the evening coming through the window was present.  She was laying in the same position I had visited her in only 30 minutes before when she was still alive and had made eye contact with me.

What a beautiful photograph this scene would have made, I didn’t capture it through the knowledge that it would get a mixed response from family members.  This lead to the time surrounding the arrival of our new daughter, an empty single room in the hospital was just asking to be photographed, so I did.  The interesting thing being that this particular room was in the same part of the hospital that my grandmother had passed away in and a similar position only three floors lower.

The revolving door of life sees time begin and time end, often only meters apart from each other.

There is another element to this story as our new daughter bares the name of my late grandmother ‘Alice’, a deliberate tribute to a strong, very wise and sorely missed women (pictured below meeting my eldest daughter Cleo 7 years ago).

Life and News

A couple of years ago I began a thought process surround the relationship between Life, Death and Photography and began gathering various images to supplement my thoughts and feelings surrounding it.

Photography has a responsibility to show, wherever possible, the truth.  To throw off the rose tinted glasses and to show the world in all its glory, even if that glory is something many do not wish to see.

In the past 24 hours my family have seen the safe arrival of mine and my partners new daughter.  Alice entered this world at 11.24pm on the 11th of August 2016 and I had my camera of course.

It’s always important to get those precious moments, those first cuddles and the first meetings with grandparents, but what about the first breaths?  Anyone who has seen or experienced birth knows that it is a messy business but one that can be very humbling indeed.  In my images captured during the birth of my daughter I wanted to show as much of birth as I could ‘warts ‘n’ all’.

This blog post will be one of several studying this area of anthropology however I must warn the reader at this point that some of the images are graphic.  For this post I will leave it at this one image, taken just seconds after my daughter breathed her first breath.  My pursuit is in search of that honest document of Life and Death and its relationship with Photography.

Alice Seconds Old