Exploring how photography can help us make sense of loss, with pictures by: Anastasia Taylor Lind, Lydia Goldblatt, Briony Campbell and Guy Martin.
Having suffered loss and photographed loss I can understand the importance that photography can play in helping us come to terms with losing our loved ones. When I think of my parents (who died in 2010, very close together) the memories are often linked to photographs I have. For me at least my memory is sparked by imagery, and photography, being a medium that is very well suited to exploring the passing of time, is the natural partner to this process of remembering.
In my project Before They Were Fallen, exploring Remembrance, the passing of time and loss is revealed very directly in the comparison between two pictures: a family snap and its recreation taken after a death in action.
HELENA TYM AND ROBIN THATCHER from Berkshire, are the parents of Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher who was killed on June 2nd, 2009, in an explosion whilst on patrol in Helmand province. He was 19. Before: Helena, Robin and Cyrus at home in Reading, Prom Night, May 2006. After: At home in Reading, July 2015 “We haven’t taken many photographs since Cyrus was killed, because all we see, when we look at them, is the one face that isn’t there. That’s why, when we were approached about this project, we wanted to do it, because it conveyed exactly how we feel. There is this space all the time, and I feel it very physically, so to be able to show it in a photograph is really important.”
Elsewhere in the project I used photography to explore the potential for objects to store traces of a loved one. The pictures consider the possibility that we can lock memories within a solid form such as an object of significance. They then store emotional potential like a reservoir for thoughts and emotions, to be released by touch or through a visual connection.
Stones and Stuff “Gary loved to collect fossils, stone and shells form the places he went. He would be able to tell you exactly where each piece came from.” Toni O’Donnell, lost her husband, Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary ‘Gaz’ O’Donnell GM, from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, when he was killed on Wednesday 10 September 2008, in Helmand province.
I know from the interest I have had in the story both from the participants and the audience that photography as a tool to explore loss can be very effective and that there is a huge appetite for imagery dealing with this issue. When I was invited to be a Judge for the Dying Matters photography competition along with Rankin, Lisa Pritchard ( and several judges from outside of the photography industry) I really wanted to support it, believing apart being a from fund raising opportunity for the charity, the competition was also a brilliant vehicle for people trying to make sense of their own loss and bereavements.
The theme for the competition which can you enter here is broadly dying and bereavement ,
“To enter, you need to submit a photograph and text to Celebrate Life in the Face of Death. Your photograph could be a place, person, or object or abstract composition exploring dying, death or bereavement which:
Is a memory or moment of someone or something special in your life
Is a representation of a life changing experience or achievement
Depicts community spirit
Reminds you of mortality”
With that in mind I wanted to use this blog to show case some pictures that I feel deal with the subject particularly well in the hope that I can inspire some of the entrants. These pictures are selected from the work of friends and colleagues and bearing in mind I’m a documentary photographer this genre is particularly well represented in this selection. They deal with public and private loss .
Brioney Campbell and Lydia Goldblat are two photographers who have dealt with the approaching death of their fathers in a very personal and hugely inspiring way. The Photography engages us immediately, poetically and with intensity. The viewer shares the journey to the point of departure on an extraordinary intimate level.
The work, undoubtedly, is part of the grieving process for Briony and Lydia; but through their attempt to make sense of their loss , and their generosity in sharing, we the viewer have privileged access to this very private process.
Briony’s The Dad Project works with film and image; the sound is crucial in the film but always its the stills that hold our attention rather than the moving footage.
“You seem like a very kind man David”. “Well thank you Alan I tried”. Alan the paramedic’s eyes were full when he replied; “Just keep on trying is all I can say to you my friend”.
Me (Briony) as Dad, 1986
Today we knew he would die soon. I went outside and looked at the sky while we waited for the ambulance. It was perfectly beautiful.
Lydia’s series, Still Here (Hatje Cantz 2013 ) seeks to make sense of the transition between life and death, by searching for the poetic or ‘metaphysical’.
According to the publisher “her work offers a concentrated meditation on mortality, time, love and loss, in which corporeal scrutiny courts metaphysical wonder. The images are often limited to a single detail: a timepiece abandoned on a shelf, a closed eyelid, the sunlit form of a bee.”
Lydia herself says of her work “Photographing, for me, is a means of giving expression to both the internal and external processes that shape our experience of life”
she is “interested in the indefinable thresholds that mark out our individual existence, and in the subtle process of erasure that returns us to the state from which we emerge.”
From the personal to the public sphere I wanted to show case the work of two other friends and colleagues , Anastasia Taylor-lind and Guy Martin , who like me have been interested in new ways of documenting aftermath of conflict. They both offered an interesting take on the Maiden protests, ( Kiev, Ukraine, February 2014) that led to the shooting of 112 protestors.
Anastasia did not set out to document death or dying, I’m guessing originally , but her project which began as exploration of the idiosyncratic nature of the protestors and their home made Armour soon became a study of loss following the tragic shooting and deaths of 112 protestors . An insight into the work is inferred from a recent quote, “Men fight wars, and women mourn them,”
Portraits from the Black Square Is published by Ghost books 2014 .
Guys work, ‘Shrines of Maidan’, is again impressive in its simplicity , in his words the pictures ‘serve as reminders of the lives that were lost during the early convulsions of the Ukrainian revolution. He explains “photographers, returning to locations months and years after bloody and often violent events have taken place are often fraught with the weight of responsibility. How can it be possible to represent those historical events when all but the slimmest trace of of that specific violent history remains? These shrines, dotted along a snow covered avenue were not only a physical monument to those events but also a reminder in the enduring power of the simple family album image.”
I hope these pictures give you a flavor of what is possible in both public and private spheres when photographing Death and dying; and most importantly the inspiration and courage to enter the competition.