It’s not a wedding right, so why should anyone take photos at a funeral? I admit, I’d never thought about it until my father died, and then my uncle took photos at the funeral. At the time I thought, whatever, but now, I am really pleased he did.
Why? Because all emotion is beautiful. We don’t take photos of the sad moments in our life. We’re used to taking millions of selfies and group shots when we’re having fun, but when we’re having a bad or sad time, we just want to be left alone right?
As a society we need to change this. Life is not about only recording the best moments. Life is full of a range of experiences and emotions and if we focus only on the super sugary glossy ones, we miss the important part of being a human.
There’s nothing to be ashamed about at a funeral. It’s perfectly ok to cry, and to let the mascara run down your face. To feel sad at a funeral is to express your love. Expressing all emotions is an important part of the healing process with grief, and photography can play an equally important part in this process.
A couple of years ago I took the opportunity of photographing my Opa’s funeral and the wake afterwards and would like to share with you some of the photographs I took, to show you why photography can be a healer.
Here’s my top five reasons why photography at a funeral can help you heal:
1. It’s a visual record of who attended.
When you are grieving, it is impossible to take in and absorb with significance all of the people who have turned up to pay their respects. Some people will be there because of their relationship with the deceased, however others will be there purely to support you. Childhood friends, school friends, university or work friends, and friends made whilst doing hobbies and travelling may unexpectedly turn up to support you. Guest books are a nice gesture and a way to physically record the presence of everyone, however it’s nice to be able to put a face to a name. Trust me, you won’t be able to remember every single person who is there, but the camera can record it for you.
2. Photography captures the emotion of the moment.
All emotion is beautiful, and by being present to the beauty of grief, we can understand that to grieve is to express love. A funeral is therefore, an outpouring of love. It’s beautiful to be able to see the impact that your loved one had on people around them. It’s also a great reminder that we are all human, and suffering is what unites us.
3. It is a visual record of how you chose to honour your loved one.
A funeral is the last chance we have to show the world who our loved one was, and what they stood for in their life. Everything takes significance. The people who speak, the hymns sung, the choice of flowers and even the location of both the service and the interment at a cemetery or scattering of ashes.
It’s is all a reflection of the personality of the person we are remembering, the community they lived in and the family they loved. Over time we can forget the details and even the significance behind the details. Photography is a reminder of the love you showed and the care you took to honour and celebrate the life of your loved one.
4. The wake is a celebration of life and is there for the people left behind, who are united in their love and loss.
After the funeral it has become tradition for the family and close friends to get together for refreshments. It is a time when tears are wiped away and are replaced by hugs, cups of tea and shared stories. Nodding of heads, hesitant smiles and eventually tears of laughter replace tears of sadness as the stories flow. Often it is the only time an extended family will get together other than at a wedding. It is in these moments that photography can capture the tenderness and the love, the friendships and the care and support for those who are left behind.
5. It serves as a record, providing healing for those left behind.
When you lose a loved one, you may not be ready to look at the funeral photos for quite some time. But eventually you will be. Photography documents this occasion of love and grief and is a memento of the importance of that person in your life.
Remember, you don’t need to hire a professional photographer to take images, however, you can if you feel that this is appropriate. If there is someone who will not be too upset on the day, who knows how to take photos without flash and would not feel awkward in the situation, and importantly can be discreet, then ask them. Please do not leave the photography up to an immediate member of the family. They need to be fully absorbed in the moment, and not hidden behind the lens of a camera.
Funeral photography does not try to capture photos of people posing like that of a wedding. The objective is that during the service the family and attendees should be almost unaware that a photographer is capturing their image. It’s a bit like a great waiter, they seamlessly facilitate a great meal, and provide everything we need, without getting in the way.
At the wake however, it’s perfectly ok after everyone has settled in and become more relaxed, to ask groups of people to pose together. Especially like in the case of my grandfather’s funeral where it was the first occasion that the family had assembled together in a long time.
Please never ever turn up at a funeral and take photos without the express permission of the immediate family. If you are taking photographs at a religious venue such as a church, you must have prior approval of the minister or equivalent.
I hope this article helps – if you have any questions, post in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please share on social media, as you never know who might need this right now.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at email@example.com.
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