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General photography questions and answers: Discuss Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)...Hi, I have debated making this post for a while now, due to the sensitive and emotional content. Mods please ...
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Old 04-12-2007, 19:58   #1 (permalink)
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Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Hi,

I have debated making this post for a while now, due to the sensitive and emotional content.

Mods please feel free to remove the post if it is deemed offensive or insensitive.

On August 3rd this year my first grandchild was stillborn at full term. Skye was a beautiful baby girl who unfortunately never drew a breath. This was obviously a massively devastating event for Skye's mother and father and all of the families.

I was wandering if anyone else has been asked to take photographs in similar circumstances. I only had my Sony point and shoot and took over 60 images.The response from people has been varied to say the least, ranging from deep gratitude to deep offence. I was honoured to be asked to use one of the images on the order of service for the funeral (by my stepson, Skyes father) however I have since heard various family members from both sides have commented that this was a "sick" thing to do.

I feel that I acted with respect and sensitivity at the time of taking the photos and hope that having this record of their first child may be of some small comfort to Skyes mother and father in the future. I hope that I have not caused too much pain for the people on Pixalo and would welcome a discussion on these issues.

Regards,

Alan
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Old 04-12-2007, 20:08   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Alan, this must have been an incredibly emotional post for you to make. Firstly, my sincere condolences on the loss of your grandchild, that must have been a terrible thing for all of you to bear.

I'm not sure it was something that I could have done but I presume you did this with the blessing of the child's parents and, at the end of the day, it is their thoughts that are important and not those of other members of the family. If it brings them some comfort then that is all that matters.
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Old 04-12-2007, 20:20   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

I agree 100% with Angela, and would like to add my condolences.

We tend to regard death as a taboo subject in both print and images, especially the latter. Those who found what you did 'distasteful' probably couldn't explain why they don't react the same way to someone 'lying in state' after death, or perhaps even to the death mask of Tutankhamen.

As long as it is what the parents wanted, that is really all that matters.
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Old 04-12-2007, 20:35   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Aww.. I'm so sorry..

I have 4 healthy kids, but if ever something like this were to happen to me, I would like pictures of my baby. Since the parents of the baby wanted these pics, that's all that matters in my opinion.
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Old 04-12-2007, 20:48   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Please allow me also to pass on my condolences at what {for all of you a very emotional time}
As has been said if it is what the parents wanted that is all that matters, all of you have photos to look at and remember a loved child and I believe that is the most important thing.
I whole heartedly agree with Silkstone's comments and hope that {in time} the pain will ease
Regards
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Old 04-12-2007, 21:14   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

This goes to a highly debated subject, and basically you've answered your own questions. The parents (in this case) wanted pictures, and the buck stops there. Nobody else's opinion should matter. When situations like this come up, it's best to leave it up to the ones who it's going to affect the most.

To your defense, those pictures are the ONLY images they're ever going to have of their daughter. Despite her only being an infant, at least they'll have a face to put with her name. If they have more children, you can be sure they're going to want them to know that they have a sister, and this is who she is. As for the rest of the family who thinks it was a 'sick' thing to do, the best explanation you can offer is the truth. I can't imagine how awkward it must have been to be snapping pictures at such a crushing moment, but at the time you probably didn't have the heart to tell the parents no.

Sorry to hear about Skye. Best wishes.
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Old 04-12-2007, 21:15   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Having lost one on the first/second trimester threshold and then our second being born all but dead and having to be resuscitated multiple times (now a healthy 9 year old), I can somewhat sympathize with your children. Give them my best wishes toward healing. I would have had a very hard time taking the pictures myself, but as was said earlier, if the parents wanted it then it is the right thing to do. I have to admit that I lost my breath when I saw the name of the child. The name we picked (and "retired) for our child we lost was Skyler. Again, my best.

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Old 04-12-2007, 23:57   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Alan, you have done the right thing. Those closest to Skye will miss her very much. In these circumstances it is important to remember her. I would not dwell on the act of taking the photographs, I think this is just part of the remember and grieving process and you supporting your family in this. Unfortunately bereavement is not openly discussed however naming, holding, kissing and the saying good bye are very important in these circumstances. This is not really a photography question, however discussing it with your Friends is good, and we will do our best to help. I'm afraid I am going to offer some cold an calculated advice, but this is based on my own experience.

My advice would be to seek reassurance from some experts. You are questioning what is "normal" or "acceptable" under very difficult circumstances. You have not only experienced what has happened, at a time of great need you have stepped forward and gotten involved with some of the practical process of what was happening. I would talk to those who deal with this regularly, nurses, doctors or members of the family who have dealt with bereavement. I don't know if you are religious, and it does not matter if you are or not, but on a purely practical note vicars deal a lot with this kind of difficulty. What they will all tell you is that you did the right thing and that you got stuck into a task that had to be done. You have taken some family photos that will be cherished for a long time. It will mean a lot to the people who count. Don't be ashamed, there are many practical tasks that need to be done when there is a bereavment. Well done.
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Old 05-12-2007, 00:48   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

My condolences to you and all your family I can see nothing distasteful in your actions..You showed great courage in carrying out your sad task,i believe commendations not criticisms should be coming to you.
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Old 05-12-2007, 12:07   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Hi,

I would like to thank you all for your expressions of condolence. I am sincerely greatful for your comments and support regarding this topic.

I am aware that this post may be viewed as me seeking a 'there, there' response, however this is genuinely not the case.

Angela - thank you for your kind words. Skyes father asked me to take the pictures.

Silkstone - thank you for your observations, maybe there is much more of a separation and less emotion involved with the examples you cited.

Wannabe - thank you, the parents wanted the pictures, so I felt that I had to try to get the best images I was able to, given the grief I was (and am) going through.

Sparhawk - thank you for your comments, the best of the photos are now in a book of rememberance for Skyes parents. Its strange how people can be so emotionally affected by an image, and that image can provoke such extremes of emotion.

Chris Rabior - thank you. You are right these are the only images taken on a camera as opposed to a cameraphone......

robbo - thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope that this post did not cause too much distress to you and your loved ones. Skyler is a lovely name - I don't think I have heard of it before. I am glad your nine year old is healthy, I bet you have a million pictures p.s. the smilie in you sig caused no offence

snap2photo - thank you for your support and advice. As a psychiatric nurse I deal with emotional stress and distress on a regular basis and realise that (in part) this post is part of my personal grieving. The reassurance seeking and validation for what I have done is part of the healing..... I am greatful for the pragmatic suggestions you have offerred.

Foxesbrew - thank you for your kind words.

I think that one of the main reasons I posted,was to seek other more experienced photographers opinions and experiences related to taking images in highly emotional and stressful times.

TFL

Alan
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Old 05-12-2007, 13:42   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Although this thread may be drawing to a close - I feel my contibution may help. As a Family Doc and also a Forensic Medical Examiner I have been involved in more distressing situations than most. It is really clear to me, and supported by other peoples research work, that seeing your stillborn baby, cuddling and holding her and having memorabilia from her such as a lock of hair or a photograph can help you to grieve properly and to accept that baby as a real human being who had a brief life. As in all things, the wishes of her parents are paramount, but in the UK, midwives routinely photograph stillborn babies using polaroid film so that if the parents change their minds, they can see a picture of their child weeks or months later. So in summary - you did the right and best thing.
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Old 05-12-2007, 16:21   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

my condolences to you and your family for your loss.

It had taken me a while to add to this thread as i found it very difficult to put words to my feelings about this, but i think i have managed to summarise it in a few sentences.

It must have taken a great deal of thought on the parents part and courage on your part.
I personally feel that it was a beautiful thing to do. And obviously as the parents asked you to do it, it was something that they wanted.
As has been said doing this is affirming the short life that the baby had, confirming to everyone that she was not "just" a still born, but was a real person in her own right.
I am sure in time to come they will be able to look back on these and remember her, instead of having only the memories that some people have.
obviously it is not something that every parent who loses a child can cope with at the time, but i would like to think that many a greiving parent in the future would look back at things and say . " I wish we had something solid to remember her/him by"

A lovely gesture and one that im sure will bring comfort, if not when they were taken because of the raw pain associated with it, but most certainly in the future.

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Old 17-12-2007, 20:58   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

Definately the right thing ... you did a good thing.
Hope your family are ok soon

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Old 19-12-2007, 13:19   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Photographing death (WARNING SENSITIVE CONTENT)

For any professional photographers out there whom are interested in providing a compassionate, worthwile service to families such as Alan's whom might need your skills during such a time of loss, I'd strongly recommend contacting and joining the following organisation.

Now I lay Me Down To Sleep - ~Infant Bereavement Photography~

As much as they're based in the United States, they have a global database of photographers who operate all over the world, donating their time and skills without charge.

And Alan - at the end of the day, there are only two opinions that matter: yours and those of the parent's whose child you photographed. If you're both satisfied that you made the right choice in photographing Skye, then that's all that matters... at least you'll always have something physical and tangible to connect you to Skye than just memories.

Last edited by VikingPhotography; 19-12-2007 at 13:25.
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