Tag Archives: family

Dying Matters

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.

Before They were Fallen , Afghanistan Remembrance

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.

UK _ Remembrance Objects of Significance , TONI O’DONNELL

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.

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“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”.

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Me (Briony) as Dad, 1986

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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.”

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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 .

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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.”

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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.

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Thank you Arts Council

How many times have we heard someone say, ‘if I had known how hard it was going to be, I would never have started in the first place”?  It felt a bit like that filling in the Arts Council proposal. It is no slight undertaking. Especially when one is hugely form-phobic; but Phew we, ( myself and co-producer Alison Brisby) have got the go ahead and I believe it’s a testament to the value of the project. It’s a huge boost to have some one believe in something as much as you believe in it yourself, so thank you Arts Council.

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The Fallen, Then and Now ( #ThenandNow)   is the project we have now been officially funded for: it’s a work which I have discussed in previous blogs exploring the aftermath of the conflict in Afghanistan, recreating existing family photographs of service personnel killed in the conflict and running the pictures alongside the testimony of the family members left behind trying to make sense of the devastation.

The work explores memory, and remembrance from a very personal perspective.

Then and Now series Loss in Afghanistan

The proposal for the Arts Council was to expand the scale of the project to 20 case studies and to turn the work in to a touring exhibition. I am hoping the size of the project will make it valuable as an archive and a tribute to the loss and sacrifice not just of the soldiers, but their families too.

I will be reporting on the progress of the project here, but please feel free to share this with anybody who you feel may be interested in getting involved –  especially service personnel and charities working in this sector.

 

Thanks: 

Thankyou very much to Alison Brisby for helping me steer this proposal along without which I suspect I would not have managed to navigate the hoops and hurdles required to get funding. Thank you also to Four Corners Gallery and Oriel Colwyn the first galleries able to confirm space for the shows in September and November 2015.Thanks also to all of the guys who checked and rechecked the proposal to make sure it was strong and appropriate, have expressed interest in showing the exhibition  or simply for having the decency to share their worldly wisdom and own experiences for Arts Council funding: including Open Eye gallery,  Dave and Carla at Four Corners,  Emma Smith at Look 15 Liverpool International Photography Festival, Colin Cavers, Fotospace gallery , Fife ; Kate Peters; Ania Dabrowska; Ed Thomson; Adrian, Katy Regan and Sophie Gerrard  .

Ok now the hard bit: Do the project!

 

For more information on completed work click here for the previous blog.

 

 

Then and Now- a Story of Loss in Afghanistan

“After Afghanistan” published this month in Marie Claire , is a story I have been thinking about and working on for a while.  (My working title is Then and Now). I came up with the idea of recreating family snapshots after conflict bereavement during a trip to Libya, in July 2012. I was wrestling with the idea of how to tell stories of Loss in the aftermath of War (a theme I have explored in several countries). In the picture below we see the recreation off a snap after the child (later a rebel) on the right was killed in action in Tripoli, Libya . libya45 In Libya the culture of the the family snapshot is not so great; and this made it a difficult approach there but I knew it would be well suited to a similar story in the UK.  Its great Marie Claire have given the space to these stories. I really believe its important to consider the sacrifice the families of service personnel make alongside that of the  soldiers. The interviews by Katy Regan are really powerful, there is no online gallery but here’s a sample from Caroline Munday’s  interview ( pictured below) that really struck me:

“I was just leaving work, at Parcel Force, when I saw my sister had rung, leaving an odd message saying I had to call mum.  Mum was very insistent I immediately go home to her and Dad’s.  I just felt this blackness come over me. I said, “Oh God, tell me it isn’t James”.
I was on my knees, alone in the car park, screaming. I felt like my heart had been wrenched out.  Then, this bubble just emerged around me. I walked back to the building and said, calmly to the security guard, “I’ve just found out my son’s been killed in Afghanistan. I need to go back into the building

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A big thank you to all who took part, once more, for the emotional strength and commitment to the story.

You may be able to help?

I am planning to apply for Arts Council funding to make this a much bigger project, with many more stories told which would tour as an exhibition – hopefully as part of our remembrance celebrations. In order to have a chance of getting this, however, I need to find ‘match funding’ that is, a partner to supply sponsorship.

You could help by sharing this story with your contacts and colleagues. My hope is, that it would then reach organisations who might be interested in giving back to our troops’ efforts and their sacrifice by backing such a project.

Each case study who takes part gets to support their chosen charity, so by even just tweeting or Facebooking the story, you would be giving back in a small way.

China, A Travelogue.

In April this year, I set off to China to complete a story on the one child policy. I went with my son and my son’s mother (we are not together but we get on well and we wanted our son to have a family holiday). Holiday is not the right word really. We were to complete an assignment for Stella magazine (Fergus Mum, Katy, is a journalist, that’s how we met); a travel story for at least two magazines, the deal was that we would also find time to be tourists with our child. It was not going to be a picnic, or really a holiday for that matter, but we hoped it would be a little adventure.

Did I mention we were also going to throw in four provinces, interview and photograph twelve families? Not really that relaxing then! We were also dealing with a child who is jet-lagged and desperate for fish fingers. In a country where there are virtually no English speakers ( even in the hotels) or even English signs. It was a challenge at times.

It worked though, we managed to have a great time, even though Fergus was jet lagged for a week…..We had to point to food in photographs quite often,( it’s hard to tell donkey from beef in a picture you know but then we thought it was about time Fergus expanded his diet)  And he did. Duck was added, donkey maybe, and lots of other strange things of which I can’t tell you the names. Dim Sum in Hong Kong was a highlight, you get to choose food from waiters wheeling trollies of exotic delights. In Shandong, however, they eat pickled cabbage for breakfast –  what’s that all about –  and no coffee., would you believe it? This was an outlandish and hostile environment to be working in.

On the plus side they did have this great food concept called ‘hotpot’ where you pick and cook the food you want to eat on the table – for example lobster. Very often, restaurants were like an aquarium. This is a definite plus for two parents trying to entertain a six-year-old boy.

China, like the food, is a country of extremes. In a third world country where the average income is equivalent to that of the  Republic of Namibia, who could imagine cities like Shenzhen? A commercial metropolis exploding from nowhere  – twenty years ago it was a fishing port – Or Beijing where four lane superhighways and gleaming skyscrapers have almost erased all the history of an ancient city in the time it takes to decide that an ancient culture is almost irrelevant. (I think they were lucky to hang on to the Forbidden city and managed this only because of the economics of tourism.) Planning permission is not an obstacle for development in China.

It’s a ruthlessly pragmatic communist country where the bottom line is more brutal than in Wall Street. If the Americans put the $ into CAPITALI$M then the Chinese put the ¥ into MONE¥. Every thing has a price, its not surprising they are tipped to be the world’s next super power. I guess corporations are all mini dictatorships so when China embraced capitalism it had all the systems in place to be one vast, Chinese Corporation.

But in China there is always the antidote. An overnight and evocative train ride away from Shenzhen and you are in the rural province of Guangxi.  Even though I had to pay every time I wanted to photograph a water buffalo around the ultra touristy Yangzhou, it was hard not be seduced by the amazing iconic mountain ranges along the River Li, and even bartering on the streets of this reassuringly quaint Chinese equivalent of Windermere was great fun.

Back on the river, we discovered that having a picture taken with a cormorant fisherman was also chargeable. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry really, the octogenarian even had his own business card but then in China, economic success is progress of a sort, why work all day to get a few fish when you can make £15 in two hours? Especially as there is no state pension. Still, how many British six year olds get to pose with a real life piece of Chinese history? The photo we have of Fergus on board the Cormorant fisherman’s raft, is one to treasure.

Down the road In Guilin though I was happy to part with my Yuan when I picked up some lovely Chinese paintings after a demonstration of this ancient art form in the museum, we even had a stamp carved with Fergus name on and Fergus taught the technique by a master artist, a personal highlight of the trip.

So there you are: China: ancient and modern, crass and cultured, rich and poor, communist and capitalist, and is  a country where despite many similarities with western culture, is truly an exotic, mystical place, full of surprises.

In between all the touristy stuff above we did manage to complete the intended assignment, which I will publish in the next blog:  ‘China in Our Hands’ a report on the One Child Policy. Fergus was my mini assistant, carrying my equipment, loading film and so forth. Ha! Was he heck, but he did play with the children and our ‘only’ child was a great ice breaker for all the families we met with their ‘only children’ so really very helpful.

I hope he will have fond memories of this trip, after all he got  to see pandas, climb the Great Wall, meet a cormorant fisher man, bike along the river Li, catch minnows at Splendid China (a huge miniature recreation of all of china’s amazing sites )but maybe not  quite as many as I would hope. After retuning he had a weekend with his grand parents pottering around the shores of North West Lancashire.  “Dad” he said, “I had a great time in China, but I had a better time with nana and granddad.” Brilliant!