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Funeral Photography - Testimony to a Rich Life

By John Slaytor

A funeral can be so many things.

To a family it can be a farewell to a father or mother. It can also be a time for a family to reunite, coming together from all parts of Australia, or even the world. Sisters in their seventies can catch up. Grandchildren can play with their interstate cousins.

To friends, it is a time to remember and reminisce about a person who enriched those he or she came into contact with. School friends may not have bumped into each other for decades until they meet again at the memorial service.

To colleagues, it is a reminder that there is more to life than work. It is also a time to acknowledge how the deceased helped them in their own careers.

In short, a funeral is a unique gathering of people from all walks of life all drawn together by the memory (of one person.

Given how significant funerals are, it is not surprising that there is always a Remembrance Book for mourners to sign. What is surprising is how few(funerals are professionally photographed.

But what to photograph? Prior to the memorial service, it can be a good opportunity to photograph people who were significant to the individual such as social groups. For example, the tennis club that played such an important part of the individual's life will want to acknowledge how important the deceased was (to them. Work colleagues are also important since they will reflect the esteem in which the person was held. And of course, the family must be photographed.

During the service, the speakers and the congregation can be photographed. In a church, it is essential that the photographer is unobtrusive. This is possible if they remain at the back and do not use flash photography. Whilst church interiors tend to be dim, with today's professional cameras, low light is no longer a barrier to taking flash-free photos.

After the service, an image of the hearse can be very moving.

Finally, the wake is a time to catch up and reminisce. If possible, photos of the loved one and his or her favourite possessions could be placed in the background so that photos will be more meaningful. The wake can also be a time (when heartfelt speeches are given. As in the church, flash should be avoided to avoid distracting the audience.

Having photographed the key events surrounding the funeral, you may also want to record special aspects of the person's life. For example, a much loved garden could be photographed or a collection of objets d'art could be photographed before it is dismantled. The person's home may evoke strong memories and a photograph will bring back these memories in later years.

Once the photographs have been taken, what do you do with them? Since the photos record a unique gathering of people, the photos allow those who were unable to attend the funeral to see it for themselves, to see what happened and to see who was present. Therefore, the photos should be on a website so that anyone with access to the internet can look at them from anywhere in the world.

The photos can also be presented in small book so, for example, the widow can carry it in her handbag to show her friends, so the books can easily be posted and so the photos can be shown to those without internet access. A book also has the advantage of being able to include wording such as the names of mourners, the obituary and images of the person's life.

In summary, a funeral deserves to be recorded for posterity since it is a unique gathering of friends, family and colleagues. Sensitively photographed, the funeral photos and book will take their place alongside other precious family heirlooms.

John Slaytor's funeral photography maybe viewed at http://www.thefuneralphotographer.com.au

About John Slaytor

I find it difficult to narrow my photographic interest. This inattention to detail gives me plenty of subject matter. My range of work includes Macedonian Weddings and Christenings, Nigerian 21st Birthday parties, Presbyterian and Catholic funerals, Indian and Greek family portraits, Chinese and Ghanaian football supporters, Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and Sydney Opera House.

I live and work in Sydney but can and do travel anywhere for my vocation. I would like to think I have been positively influenced by Werner Bischof for his quiet humanistic vision, Jane Bown for her minimalist approach to technology, Eve Arnold for her compassion and Peter Dombrovskis for his pristine imagery. After visiting Auschwitz I came across Michael Kenna whose work has helped me understand how buildings can have mood.

(I avoid formality and artificial lighting believing these things draw far too much attention to the process of photographing people. I have no qualms about making buildings endure long exposures with a tripod. I use Nikon cameras and process my images (RAW only) using DXO. I print with an Epson 4800. My computer is a Mac and my screen is an Eizo.


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