We don't often see photographs of funerals. I guess most people are there to grieve and likely are not in the frame of mind to take photographs. This is unfortunate as there is perhaps no greater moments of human grief and sadness. Death is a part of the human condition. This in itself is enough to warrant it being recorded in our visual history. England-based documentary photographer Shaun Connell has spent some time photographing funerals; I invited him to share those images, along with some of his thoughts, with us here on the blog.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4
These four verses form the foundation of my purpose as a photographer. It is my mission to document the seasons of life. Many photographers spend their entire careers capturing many of these seasons: christenings, birthdays, graduations, engagements, weddings and births to name a few. No matter how good the beginning and middle is, no (life) story is complete without an end. That's one of the reasons I choose to document funerals.
In my community funerals are a time when mourning so often leads to dancing, as those who are left behind celebrate the life of a late family member, friend, or colleague. It is always a privilege and an honor to be invited to document funerals.
This particular funeral saw a good friend of mine pay his last respects to an uncle, a much respected elder of his family and the local community. The passing of this generation doesn't go unnoticed or without celebration, as this generation were the ones that brought their families from the Caribbean to the UK. With each funeral more of the direct physical link to Caribbean is broken. In time, 10 - 20 years, that link will no longer be there.
It goes without saying that this funeral was an emotionally-charged affair. So much so that there were times when I stopped shooting and simply stood in the moment. I am to the emotive moment what Cartier-Bresson is to the decisive moment. For me, a great photograph gets under the skin of ones subject(s) and reveals something of the inner conversation that is going on. Hearing the funeral party singing "How Great Thou Art" let me feel the love and sorrow that were present in equal measure. My job was to silently capture the mood and moments with respect, dignity, and love.
Some say that time is a good healer. Personally, I say that depends on what one does with the time. It was my intention to document this funeral in way that helped with the healing process. In doing so, family and friends who attended can periodically look back at these photographs with smiles and a sense of pride that they had honored the life of a loved one in a fitting manner. For those who couldn't attend the photographs are a testimony to a loving farewell. I'm happy to say that any questions from bemused onlookers at the time where answered comprehensively within the resulting photographs.