Once again my thoughts on Family History have been triggered from attending a funeral, although this was no ordinary funeral and very much the celebration of a life. I was surprised by the fact there was a photographer there to capture all the key moments and when later reflecting on this I was struck by how appropriate it was and how important it is to remember to capture all the moments of life, not just the happy ones.
There is usually a camera in the birthing room
When a child is born into the world these days it is very common that a camera is there in the delivery room. Some fathers opt for a step by step record of all the different stages in all the gory reality, others wait for that first moment of a mother holding her baby. A generation or two ago life was rather different and the birthing room was very much a woman’s world and the closest a father got to the action was pacing up and down outside the room. The first moments of life were not recording but almost certainly the camera would be present at a baptism when a baby was first brought into the Church and reborn into a life of faith. In the current era where a baptism is no longer a standard right of passage for most children, this step is often missing and not planned, maybe one of the reasons the camera was first introduced into the birthing room.
Have you ever attended a wedding where there wasn’t at least one camera present? No, I haven’t either (The cost of everything to do with a wedding turns it into a big money event and the photography is no exception). Any friend or acquaintance unable to make the event will usually shortly after be asking to see the photos.
The point I’m trying to make I’m sure you will realise is that it is the most natural thing in the world to pick up a camera to record all the happy events in our lives. I have a selection of photos from my Christening day (but non-taken in the Church because that wasn’t the norm in those days) they did, however, feature me in the Christening gown and my family in their finery. I have wedding photos from an official photographer as well as many shared on social media by family and friends. Of course, another benefit of the digital age we live in is that so many others can help us to record these moments for posterity.
The Journey through Life
Lives, however, are not just made up of the high days and happy moments. When I look back on my life so far and think of the memorable moments these include times like when I broke my leg, do I have any photos of then, no! I spent several weeks with the leg in at least two different plaster casts using crutches and further time spent using elbow crutches. There are stories to tell, for instance how I managed to break the coffee table with my crutches so it had to be replaced but at no point did any of us think to get a camera out.
I think there are changes happening and young people especially are very good at realising the significance of these moments and remembering to record them if only on camera if not in any journalistic way, after all, a picture tells a thousand words as the saying goes. We are very much living in the age of the “selfie”
Photography at Funerals
So, back to the reason for the post, taking photos at a funeral. Firstly, they capture the scope of how many other lives have been touched by the individual. In the case of yesterday, the Church was fuller than I can remember it being for many years so in years to come it will be a comfort to the family to see how loved their relative was. Secondly, being such a time of high emotion the nearest and dearest may not have really have had the chance to notice who was there and this will help to show them. And thirdly it provides a fitting final memory of the individual’s earthly life, this was their very last family gathering where they were surrounded by all who loved and cared about them.
The Victorian photographed their recently departed
Interestingly, I recently came across this article written about the early days of photography when having a family photo taken was an expensive business, due to this there was a trend for post-mortem photos showing the recently deceased with their loved ones. A need to capture their image which may not have ever been done. Looking through some of these old Victorian images there was a haunting beauty to many of them reinforcing the feeling that they had simply fallen asleep.
I find it quite interesting that in the Victorian era which has a reputation for being prudish with many taboos they found comfort in taking photographs of their recent departed and yet now when we as a society have moved on so very much and openly discuss many subjects that would previously have been taboo still shy away from death. Before writing this post I did a little bit of research to see if the unexpectedness of a photographer at a funeral was limited to my personal experiences and yet I discovered searching for British funerals it seems outside of Royalty and major celebrity there really doesn’t seem to be much to see other than general stock images.
Remember to capture all the moments of life
Perhaps we should all learn a lesson from my friend and remember to record the final memories and help to provide a record of what that individual meant to those left behind. Maybe in the future, I will not be as surprised to see a camera at the funeral of a friend or loved one.
Gentle hugs to all those who may be grieving at this time,