Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Civil Celebrant | The Importance and Significance of Funeral Photography

What is your view on arriving at a funeral to say goodbye to a loved one, friend or college, and seeing a photographer there taking pictures? Would you find it morbid, strange, disrespectful, progressive or celebratory?

I’m Rob and I am a professional photographer, specialising in journalistic photography; capturing aspects, details, emotions and the atmosphere at all of life’s events. This includes photographing weddings and funerals; both of which are life changing events for all involved.

Weddings are joyous and happy occasions; marking the start of a new life for the couple getting married. The couple spend a lot of money making sure their day is about them, and I make sure I capture every detail of their day so they have visual and personal memories to look back at, and share with future generations.

Funerals, or celebration of life ceremonies as most families prefer to call them, can also be a time for smiles and celebrations. Families spend a lot of money and time making sure they give their loved one a befitting and personalised goodbye.

When my mother in died 2011, my family and I planned a non-religious celebration of life ceremony for her. We had floral tributes made to look like everyday items she favoured, and we asked all attending to wear brightly coloured casual clothing.

My memories of that day were obviously ones of sadness, but they also always bring a smile to my face when I think about how the entire day was. Bright colours, happy faces, old friends and amazingly artistic floral tributes. I regret not having the initiative to capture the day with my camera to look back at and show friends who couldn’t attend.

Each of us though are different, and each family has their own traditions and ways of acknowledging life’s events. As more families are choosing to take control over funerals for their loved ones, the acceptance, interest and demand for funeral photography is growing.

Families are choosing to have the funeral or memorial service of their loved ones documented by a photographer to have a lasting memory for now and future generations. Alternative funeral transport, family led funerals, natural burials, personalised decorated coffins, themed funerals such as football or Star Wars and bespoke floral tributes have caused a demand for funeral photography.

Funeral photography captures friends and families saying goodbye to a loved one and celebrating their life with tears, smiles and laughter; in a non-invasive and respectful way. Funeral photography isn’t about photographing a deceased person in a coffin, or lots of shots of random gravestones in gloomy cemeteries.

I capture the day as it happens, not just the funeral service itself. When a family ask me to photograph for them, I start by meeting them before the funeral day. We talk about their loved one’s life, their achievements, their personality and family. A funeral is not a day in a lifetime, it’s a lifetime in a day; and this starts by photographing at the family home.

The guests (I prefer to say guests rather than mourners, as they are attending a life celebration) get used to seeing me there as I photograph the floral tributes, chat with them about what I am doing and take pictures of them talking. When the hearse or transport arrives, the atmosphere usually changes as I capture the deceased returning and leaving home for the last time. Should a family want to see their loved one for the last time, I don’t capture this private moment unless they request me to.

When we get to the burial ground or crematorium, I keep out of the way and photograph what is taking place. I’m obviously very mindful not to capture images of grieving guests as this is a personal moment.

After the ceremony is over, I attend the wake, refreshments or memorial gathering. Eating, drinking and sharing stories together is prevalent in all human societies throughout history and after a funeral, it is symbolic or a new chapter for the family. Like weddings, funerals bring people together; sometimes from all over the world. Relatives and friends who have emigrated fly back for funerals as families come together to say goodbye to members.

These memories and gatherings being photographed give families something to look back on through the grieving process. Families can look at the images together and remember their conversation to a particular person in the picture with them. Sometimes people are unable to attend, and prints or digital images can be forwarded to people.

A funeral is an emotional event and like all events there are numerous others offering their services. My advice to anyone considering hiring a funeral photographer is to meet with them or talk to them first. Funeral photography is journalistic and discreet at the same time. It’s about capturing images of a family saying goodbye to a loved one in a personal way which includes aspects of the life they lived.

After reading this, what is your view on funeral photography? 

For information on funeral or memorial photography, please contact Rob Farrell.

Funeral Celebrant | Memorial Ceremonies | An Alternative to Funerals

Memorial ceremonies have always been a part of human culture. We usually associate them with celebrities, public figures, the army forces or public services. However, memorial ceremonies are on the increase for others members of our society, as more families are shunning what are viewed as traditional funerals. As a funeral Celebrant, I have definitely seen an increase in families choosing to celebrate their loved ones lives with a memorial rather than a funeral.
Unlike a funeral, a memorial ceremony usually takes place without the body of the deceased person being there. Due to this, a memorial can be held anywhere; at any time, and more importantly for any length of time. Funeral ceremonies or services as they are also referred to, are mostly held in designated buildings within a city council owned cemetery.
There are exceptions if a funeral takes place in an independently owned woodland or natural burial ground. As an alternative Celebrant, I am an advocate for this type of green and environmentally friendlier funerals. Families choosing these kinds of funerals generally have as much time as they require to say goodbye to their loved one, rather than the usual twenty to thirty minutes ceremonies held in council run cemetery buildings.
green burial site
For those families who choose cremation for their family member, memorial ceremonies are becoming a new addition to the procedure. Cremation has been the alternative to burial since it became legal in 1885. 70% of funerals today are cremations due to family choice, beliefs or lack of space in council run cemeteries.
Last year however, I noticed a significant increase in the number of families holding memorial ceremonies. The families I worked alongside had made the decision to have a life centred memorial after a direct cremation had taken place. Direct cremation involves the deceased person’s body being collected from a hospital, funeral director or family home and taken to be directly cremated without any ceremony.
These families had expressed a wish to avoid having a funeral ceremony. One family member told me ‘we couldn’t cope with the lasting image of the sight of a hearse arrive with a coffin containing Mom’. Another family member described a funeral as a ‘unnecessary waste of money’ and expressed ‘we would rather spend the money on a family party to honour Grandad properly’.
Memorial ceremonies have a completely different atmosphere to them in my experience. Gone is the traditional black clothing, men in dark suits and sombre looking faces. In their places, are everyday clothing, people smiling and a happier atmosphere with laughter and smiling faces. Guests are also more willing to speak as they feel more relaxed and at ease.
The presence of a coffin in an unfamiliar room, associated with feelings of sadness and grief, makes a traditional funeral a completely different occasion to a memorial. Memorials, whether there is an urn containing the cremated ashes of the deceased or not, are a more positive occasion. Children especially are encouraged to attend memorials as opposed to being shielded away as is common at funerals.
Memorial ceremonies are the perfect way to inclusively involve everyone of all ages in celebrating the life of a family member. Rooms and venues chosen for memorials can display not only a few possessions and standard style framed photographs as at a funeral; but can be filled with visual memories of the family member. Families can have large photographic displays, memory boards with quotes and thoughts associated with their loved one, books of remembrance, and family video memories.
I have been involved with memorial planning and I suggested a thumbprint tree painting by all who attended and this was turned into a framed print, displayed in the family home. The family also had a screen put up and their Father’s favourite film was shown during the memorial ceremony. It was a relaxed atmosphere with food available and everyone sharing thoughts and memories. An ‘open mike’ situation where anyone present could speak, was part of the celebration of life. A photographer captured the event just as a wedding, party or other social occasion would be photographed.
2 thumbprint tree
2016 started with the news of two celebrity memorials. Both Lemmy from Motorhead and David Bowie were privately cremated, and memorial ceremonies took place instead of traditional funerals. Lemmy’s was a very public event, with stories and speeches from his son Paul and famous friends. It was streamed live to the world via Youtube. Bowie’s was a very private and family only occasion, with news of a music tribute concert happening in March 2016.
Celebrity funerals and memorials influence fans into talking about their own arrangements with family and friends. Media announcements of direct and private cremation followed by personalised unique memorials, inform people of the alternative choice of having a funeral.
In my role as a funeral Celebrant, I help and support families in all aspects of saying goodbye to their loved ones. I work alongside undertakers and funeral directors who help families wishing to have direct cremation memorials to do so.
Memorial ceremonies are certainly memorable occasions, with tears of laughter and happiness as well as grief. They are a truly personal way to celebrate the life of a loved one. Will memorials become the personalised, cheaper and new way to mark the passing of people rather than the traditional funeral?

For more information on memorials or funerals, please contact your local celebrant here.

Original written by Ellie Farrell