Portraits of deceased loved ones

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Stephen Frizza, Oct 11, 2013.

  1. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    Since the inception of photography people from many countries and cultures have taken portraits of their beloved dead, I have over the years printed off countless last portraits of deceased relatives and in my own family we always take photographs of deceased loved ones. When My grandmother died last year I was given 2 hours with her body to make a final portrait. I'm curious who else here engages in this? and does anyone else take it so far as to discuss who shall photograph them once they have died?
     
  2. MartinCrabtree

    MartinCrabtree Member

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    I suppose some would find it morbid. Personally not something I would be comfortable doing. However I think it would be a serious challenge to do it well. Would you mind sharing a bit about process?
     
  3. MDR

    MDR Member

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    When my great grandmother died a few years ago both my mother and I took photographs of her in her hospice bed. I admit in the photographs she looks like she's sleeping and not dead. I think photographs of the dead, relative or not, are great tool to keep the memory of the person alive. I also have a few portraits of dead infants with their Mothers from the 19th century in my photo collection. Interesting genre that is still alive in eastern countries and south america while photographs of the dead seems to have become a sort of taboo in most western countries sad really.
     
  4. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    there is a long tradition of deathbed photography because before "travel" became easy,
    it was very difficult for people from "out of town" to visit their loved ones-attend the funeral.
    i have been interested in this sort of photography for a long time, never having taken any deathbed photos personally ...

    if you haven't seen it, the film "photographing fairies" has to do with post death photography, not deathbed, but combination work.
     
  5. MDR

    MDR Member

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  6. hdeyong

    hdeyong Member

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    I did a couple of nice portraits of my parents in their later years, one of which is them standing under a tree in their back yard, in dappled sunlight.
    I must confess, it never occurred to me to take a picture at their funeral, and if I could go back in time, I still don't think I would.
    To me, it seems morbid.
     
  7. AgX

    AgX Member

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    This is my impression too. Are there any photographers in Western Europe specialized on this? Working on this subject seems rather accidential to me. Or restricted to some art project.

    But I see, Steven's topic is restricted on discussing own family matters.
     
  8. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    There was (and may still be) a photographic charity here in Australia which offered a free photographic service for mothers of still born children to have their portrait taken as a memory for the mother of child but the details as to what they provided i don't know.
     
  9. MDR

    MDR Member

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    Found this link: http://digital-photography-school.c...a-funeral-4-tips-i-hope-you-never-have-to-use
    Also this photographer seems to specialize in Funerals: http://www.fosterfarewellphoto.com
    there's another one http://angelfuneralphotography.com/?page_id=64 and finally an interview with a british funeral photographer http://dyingmatters.org/blog/importance-funeral-photography

    it seems that photographing funerals is acceptable but portraits of the dead, or portraits of dead infants with their mothers like they did in the 19th century is not. It seems that in the 19th century the dead were still an integral part of the living whereas today we photograph the dead to say goodbye.
     
  10. MDR

    MDR Member

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    It seems that I was wrong there's something called Still Birth Day and I found this youtube link to an interview of a colorado couple that seems to specialize in Stillborn Baby photos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opFtYUhQung
     
  11. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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  12. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    I have no objection to post-mortem photography but no personal interest in it either. Having been with several relatives at the moment of their death... it is nothing I chose to either immortalize or remember. The lasting memories of the final illness (or whatever the circumstances may have been) are difficult enough to live with. I do insist on being present for the final closing and sealing of the casket but that is a memory for the heart not for film. Other family members insist on taking a final picture and that's OK if that is the memory they want or need. I prefer doing my "final portrait" prior to hospice and death. Some family members see that for what it really is and are uncomfortable; others seem to feel it preserves their dignity but letting them look as good as possible. I must admit that the "restorative arts" of the funeral industry are quite admirable, but I prefer a slightly more natural look.
     
  13. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Death portraits used to be perfectly normal, on film and in paint and in the form of death masks. I've been reading _Kodak And The Lens Of Nostalgia_, which is basically a history of early Kodak advertising, and there's an interesting sideline on the clash between the tradition of the death portrait and the idealized photographic view of life that Kodak's ads promulgated. If not for the "Kodak Moment" concept, we might still be taking them routinely.

    I think children's deaths are a special case, since the nature of the parents' loss is *so* different from other circumstances. It seems like a lot of people find the portraits help them to cope with their grief constructively, and it would be uniquely insensitive for people to tell them not to do that because it's too morbid.

    -NT
     
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  15. Fixcinater

    Fixcinater Subscriber

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    I photographed my grandmother a while before she passed, I was OK with that and now am glad I took those images at the time I did rather than before her health declined.

    I once photographed the funeral/church service of a photographer acquaintance's grandfather (upon my acquaintance's request) with the purpose of sharing the images with the rest of his platoon from service years that were not financially or physically able to travel. I was less OK with that (even though no open casket images), but was told many times how it was good for the other veterans to be able to "attend" and thus considered the slight discomfort I felt quite worth it.

    I would not be OK with taking post-mortem images nor have any desire for them, although I do admit my feelings may change if it were someone close to me. I can't anticipate my reaction. No judgement passed on those who would be interested, however.
     
  16. MDR

    MDR Member

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    In the 19th century and early 20th century photographs of the dead were common and most were carte de visites sized so that the relatives could take the photographs with them or send them to friends and relatives. I believe the most important aspect was to have ones loved ones close by even though they passed away.and that those photographs were very comforting for the surviving family members. Wife, Husband, Mother, etc... the difference to today is that the dead were posed as if they were alive. Didn't some famous French philosopher, probably Roland Barthes, say that all photographs basically depicted death.
     
  17. Mark_S

    Mark_S Subscriber

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    Not a deathbed photo, but in a recent move/cleaning out stuff my wife came across an envelope with some odd-size negatives in it. She asked me to print them for her to see what they were. They turned out to be a bunch of photos taken of her uncle on a leave that he had after boot camp and before being shipped out to the phillipines in 1940. One of the photos had him posing in front of a brand new 1940 Chevy sedan. He died in the Bataan Death March, so these photos were the last things that the family had left of him. I wonder how many of the digital images taken of soldiers before they went off to afghanistan, and then forgotten for 50 years will be recovered and printed in 2060.
     
  18. ambaker

    ambaker Subscriber

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    Here in the U.S. there is an organization that provides remembrance photos for parents who have lost babies.

    http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org

    So, at least in this niche area, the tradition survives.

    When we lost my father to cancer, we decided to not take pictures near the end. We wanted to remember him as he was in better times. Though, had they been the only images of him at all, I would be glad to have had them.
     
  19. Truzi

    Truzi Subscriber

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    When I was a child, my paternal Great Grandmother had photos of relatives in caskets hanging in a spare bedroom. She was from Italy, and we understood it to be an old tradition.

    When my Father and maternal Grandmother died about a year and a half ago, I was tempted to take pictures of them at the wakes, but decided I have recent photos of them alive to remember them by.
     
  20. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

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    I wouldn't criticise anything which gives comfort to someone in a sad or difficult time, though I always prefer to remember loved ones as they were when they were alive and enjoying life. Photos are, of course, one of the best way of preserving such memories.
     
  21. tron_

    tron_ Member

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    I don't mean to offend anyone here with this analogy but I kind of view this as people who go to a concert to watch it through their phones. Sometimes it's best to put the camera away and feed the heart with memories instead of the eyes.
     
  22. BennehBoy

    BennehBoy Member

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  23. iamzip

    iamzip Member

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    It used to be quite common. I took photos of my wife's grandmother in her casket, at my mother in law's request, but have only viewed them maybe once. My wife and mother in law have never seen them. I also took a few pictures of family members not normally together.

    I did not take any pictures during my father in law's funeral, although I brought my camera in case I was asked. My MIL expressed afterwards that she wished I had and forgot to ask. I feel it would have been difficult, and I felt like a number of people were staring at me during my wife's grandmother's service.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
  24. StoneNYC

    StoneNYC Inactive

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    Why did they ask you to take them if they've never reviewed them themselves?
     
  25. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I think this practice is best left back in Victorian times where it belongs I find it very distasteful, my younger brother died about five years ago and I will never forget how terrible he looked on his deathbed, and would rather remember him when he was healthy.
     
  26. StoneNYC

    StoneNYC Inactive

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    Images were costly "back in the day" and often people would wait to take pictures of their children once they had formed into adults, many death portraits of children were taken as a remembrance because the family never had an image of them in life.