Monday, November 3, 2008
Amy's earlier post on postmortem photography reminded me of an article I had read sometime ago about a photo exhibit entitled "Life Before Death". This exhibit contains 24 pairs of black-and-white photos, one before and one after death. They were on display earlier this year as part of the Wellcome Collection, an art collection in London that focuses on the development of medicine.
Journalist Beate Lakotta and photographer Walter Schels spent a year following hospice patients in Germany. The people they photographed ranged from 17 months to 83 years old. They also conducted interviews of those they photographed.
The photos above are of 67 yo Edelgard Clavey. “I want so very much to die. I want to become part of that vast extraordinary light. But dying is hard work.”
The photos below are of 52 year old Heiner Schmitz. “Don’t they get it? I’m going to die! That’s all I think about, every second when I’m on my own."
Per an article on the exhibit, the goal of the artists was to break through the taboo of talking about death. "The dying want to talk about what it feels like to die, and the living ought to listen, for death can strike at any time."
When comparing the photos, I could see the normal signs of death, eyes sunken in, a loss of fullness in the face. But something interesting I noticed in all the photos was a shadow cast across the faces of the person after they died. It's as if a light has gone out.
I must admit when I first saw these photos, I found them a bit disturbing. When I really looked at them and started reading about the exhibit, I changed my view. During an interview about the exhibit Schels said, "People are almost always pretending something, but these people had lost that need. I felt it enabled me as a photographer to get as close as it's possible to get to the core of a person; when you're facing the end, everything that's not real is stripped away. You're the most real you'll ever be, more real than you've ever been before".