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Tuesday
Aug122014

Taking Photos at Funerals

A good friend who takes fantastic photography as a personal hobby sent me a few text messages upon the memorial service of a close friend of his family. He asked why we don’t take pictures of funerals.

My first reaction: Of course we don’t. How morbid. How gauche.

And then: Why not?

For centuries, humans captured the features of forensic cases and deceased celebrities (interesting juxtaposition, but I digress) through taking wax or plaster casts of their face or hands. The practice continued until photography came along.

Photography made it possible for many families to take photographs of the dead, often in their caskets. In many cases, these photographs of the just-deceased served as the only visual memory of them as, for many years, photography stayed costly enough to prevent most people from having photos of the living. (You can see some unnerving examples via this article on Mental Floss.) The practice subsided with the spread of photographic technology, which lowered photography’s cost and increased its accessibility.

With photos of the living, no one needed photos of the dead.

Now that we all have a plethora of pictures of everyone we know in print and on-line and loaded onto electronic devices, I’d definitely argue against resurrecting (bad pun, but I had to keep it) the unnerving practice of photographing the deceased.

Yet we might want to rethink the unspoken prohibition of funeral photography.

As a friend said on Twitter, to which I went with this debate, funerals and weddings convene people who rarely get together. Why not capture the gathering for people who attended and people who could not?

Further, I can see value in recording—via photography or videography or both—the memorial service for someone we love. In seeing the people who came out to pay tribute and support the family and in preserving their beautiful and touching speeches, don’t we further honor the person who has passed away? Doesn’t the funeral provide a glimpse of the value of the deceased’s life? And couldn’t revisiting the memorial via photos and videos help loved ones grieve?

Of course, no one could ever consider selfies taken in pews during the service or at the graveside respectful, and I’d recommend people keep cell phones in pockets and handbags as a best practice. Rather, the family and friends should leave the funeral photography function to a professional event photographer who knows how to take pictures respectfully, with the advance approval and guidance of the family, and without too much intrusion or disruption.

What do you think?

Should we take pictures at funerals?

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