A fitting celebration of a life well lived!

The Funeral of Mrs Joyce Chant

2 weeks ago I had the enormous honour of being asked to photograph the funeral of a lovely 87 year old lady, Mrs Joyce Chant. Her daughter Ali rang and asked me if I would be willing to photograph the whole funeral which was to take place at the beautiful church of St john the Evangelist in Staplegrove Parish, Taunton. She had only days before left her family in Australia and felt that it was really important to be able to share the funeral with them and keep the photos as memories of a sad but wonderful day. For her, it meant that although her family was so far away, they would still feel like they had been there. It was important for the (grown-up) grandchildren to be able to say goodbye too.

I, of course, was delighted to be able to say yes and those of you who read my previous blog on funeral photography will know why. I have for a while felt that it is an important service to offer and one that completes the circle of life in reality as well as photography. We often take photos of newborns, christenings, weddings and all the other ‘time of life’ celebrations, so why don’t we do it as much with funerals?  A life is to be celebrated and when it is celebrated like this with tea, cake and strawberries and cream, it is a truly wonderful thing to be able to capture.

Ali has very kindly agreed to let me show some of the images from the day – which I am very grateful for. I am very proud of them and I am sure Joyce would have loved her send-off! There were so many special things that went on that day; Ali had designed small bags with an image of Joyce on the front as a young girl – they contained holly sprigs from her very beautiful holly tree in the garden – I have never seen such a beautiful and well cared for tree. There was one for each of the guests to plant in their own gardens. There was a huge board, full of wonderful photos that Joyce had collected and a book for everyone to sign. We also organised for Steve King Photography to come and video the event and in the afternoon after the burial we went around and asked people to say a little something for the family back in Australia. Last but definitely not least, Joyce’s car – which she only learnt to drive at the age of 65 – was parked in the church grounds, and later on it was full of people and the little ones also got to have a go driving it – though it was well and truly lacking in the battery department – which was really just as well!

I wasn’t sure what the best way would be to show the images, so I have chosen some that I really like and that I hope give a complete overview of the day. Joyce had been attending the church since she was born (87 years ago) and had been a member of the choir for 70 years. Many of the original members of the choir were there, including one gentleman that she had been at primary school with. There was so much love and warmth from all the people there and it was such an enormous pleasure to be able to photograph that. I hope I did her justice and only wish that I had been able to know her when she was still alive.

I must also say a huge heartfelt thank you to Stephen Kivett, the Vicar of St John’s, who ordinarily would not have allowed video and photography to take place, but because it was Joyce, he made a special allowance. Many, many thanks! I also want to mention Nigel Ford Funeral Director, who really was very kind and accommodating as regards the photography too – I have not had a great deal to do with Funeral Directors, but I suspect he is one of the good ones!

What an honour and a pleasure to be able to be involved in this special day.

Christina

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Funeral Photography

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!

Christina