Funeral Photography – To be or not to be a funeral photographer…
I have for some time now been thinking about offering my services as a funeral photographer for traditional as well natural/humanist funerals. I look back on all the funerals I have been to (which is not many I have to say), the funerals of loved ones that happened mostly when I was in my early twenties, and I realised how much I would have loved there to have been photographs of the whole family and close friends together, so that now we would be able to remember the day more clearly. We would be able to remember who was there, what the flowers looked like, the church, the weather, remember the people there then and later deceased now too, remember that the day, although sad, was mingled with hope and some happiness from us all being together again. I was so caught up in the emotion of the days, that I simply don’t remember anything. What a shame for the end of someone’s life, their celebration, to simply be forgotten.
For many families, weddings, christenings and funerals are the only time that they get together, and often these events are quite far apart. These days many of us live far away from our families, especially our extended families, and as we get older, funerals are the only time we all manage to be in the same place at the same time.
I know that people might think that it is a little macabre wanting to photograph funerals, but essentially, photographing a funeral is much like photographing a wedding, for a photographer. As a wedding photographer I spend most of my time keeping my distance, using a photojournalistic approach to photography. I never want to be the centre of attention, I just want to blend into the surroundings, become part of the furniture and be very sensitive to the needs of the people around me. Of course there are always the posed family group shots, the fun bridesmaids ones, the ones of the children at a wedding and some time alone with the bride and groom, but who is to say that the family shots could not also be a part of a funeral, just dealt with more sensitively perhaps.
Wedding photography takes a great deal of planning, with meetings/consultations with the bride and groom before hand. In the same way, I would meet with the family of the deceased – or perhaps the person suffering from a life-limiting illness – and discuss what they would particularly like to be photographed, creating a shot list, much like I would for a wedding. If it is a traditional funeral, they might only want the arrival of the cortege and the family as well as the service and the leaving of the cortege to be photographed, or perhaps they want the whole day shot, including the wake, the service and the cremation, the decorations, the food, flowers, the headstone, any speeches, the order of service and most importantly the people. On the other hand, if it is a natural funeral, in a woodland venue perhaps, they may wish for the photographer to be there all day, taking photos of people, offerings, decorations, flowers and the farewell celebration at the end. I think we all have different ideas about what we would like as our funeral – how we want people to celebrate our lives once we are gone – and that in itself is the beauty of it. It would be such an honour to be able to be a part of that, to help the families carry on the memory of their loved one.
On a personal note I would definitely want my funeral photographed and have already decided on the photographer I would ask and the celebrant too. I would want my loved ones to be able to remember the day with fondness, hopefully with a little joy in there too, as well as the inevitable sadness that funerals hold – we can hardly get away from that and nor should we. I don’t think that there are many funerals that are completely joyous occasions and at times, shooting a funeral could well get very emotional (for those that know me, you know that this is the part I am likely to struggle with most as I have been known to cry at weddings), but I think one would simply have to acknowledge that the emotions are there and take a break, if and when the break was needed.
I would offer that each funeral package should come with a book of the images included in the price and I would personally want to offer a bit more than just the photography. I think the option of having a larger keepsake book made, where the family can add old letters, memories, writings, ticket stubs, diary entries, emails, drawings, personal photos and all sorts of other lovely things that can be scanned in and added to the book of funeral images, would be a wonderful idea for the people left behind to have and to pass on to the next generations to follow so that they may remember too. As I love writing, I think that alongside the photography it would be wonderful to offer a ghostwriting service especially to help people who are planning their own funerals well in advance and who want to record their memories or memoirs and leave messages for the people they leave behind.
I really hope that I get the chance to do this. It feels like it is something really important for me to do, and I just hope that there are other people out there, who agree with me. I would love to hear from people who have either experienced having a photographer at a funeral, or who think they might like one – or even people who totally disagree with it, and think I am quite frankly a little barmy! I’d be interested in your views…
Thanks for reading as always!