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.

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