Photographing Grief: Photos and reflections from friends of WYG

As some of you know, throughout this month we will be sharing content submitted by guest contributors.  We have a few great posts ready to go over the next few weeks, but today we’re doing something a little different.

Litsa and I are both very passionate about using photography as a tool for coping with grief. So much so, that we regularly run a 6-week interactive e-course called Exploring Grief Through Photography. No matter how many times we teach this class, we are always blown away by the ways in which participants express their emotions and experiences through photographs and words.  So at the end of our most recent 6-week session, we asked participants if they would be willing to share their work and, thankfully, two said yes.

Below we will briefly explain the area of grief exploration along with some of the work created.  If you find that you enjoy using photography to cope with grief, or if you like connecting with the photographs of others, you may want to check out the following resources after finishing this post:

Photographing Symbols:

We believe that anyone can use photography to explore and express grief, from the professional photographer to the person who has only ever taken pictures on their phone.  Photographing symbols is one of the most straightforward and intuitive ways that people working at any skill level can create images around their grief.

Interestingly, many symbols related to grief are not comforting in the early days of grief, rather they serve as painful grief triggers. What we know is that those who force themselves to tolerate the pain and remain present with the objects, often find that in time these reminders can also become a source of comfort, warmth, positivity, and connection. This is one of the reasons why we recommend people experiment with photographing significant objects, especially those that are emotionally charged. 

Photographing painful objects can provide a constructive purpose for engaging with items that you may be avoiding. From behind the camera lens, you are able to place some distance between yourself and the object and explore it in ways you may never have thought to before.

[Mom Played Piano – Photographing Symbols]

by Julie Haigh

“My symbol is a book that my friend, Max, gave me for my birthday last year. I decided that if my friends wanted to get me something for my birthday, they could get me a copy of their favorite book. I think Max loved to read even more than I do, and he got me this copy from a great little bookstore in Lancaster that has lots of used books. I love how you can tell this book has obviously been read many times. Since his passing, his mom, Carmen, and I have talked about our love of books and how older books seem to have a life of their own. This book is a wonderful example of that. Since so many of my memories with Max are of us just spending time together and having amazing conversations, it really means a lot to have something to actually hold on to.

Max also loved every possible genre of music. There were times when he would stop everything just to play a song that he decided I needed to hear at that exact moment. Music for Everyone is a non-profit organization in Lancaster. It raises awareness and strengthens the role of music in local schools and communities. Each summer, they put pianos in public places all around the city to make music more accessible and interactive. I picked one of these pianos to serve as the background in this photo.”

by Cathy Womack

“I decided to photograph my husband’s wedding ring as a reminder symbol. This photo was taken in our backyard just for style and lighting.  I think it turned out great.  The little heart inside is one I bought after 9/11.  It was in the bowl that I keep his ring in and it just happened to fall inside the ring one time when I looked in there.”

Photographing Memory:

When you think about memories and photography, you probably immediately think of old photographs.  This makes sense, as old photographs literally depict moments spent with your loved one.  These photographs help to crystalize and refresh your memories and help you to remain physically connected to moments in the past.  That being said, old photographs don’t have to be the only photographic connection you have with memories.  You can also create new photographs representative of your relationship with your memories.

[Memories of Maryland Crabs – Photographing Memories]

by Julia Haigh

“The last time I saw Max, I had the day off for the first day of spring break at the college I work for, so we spent the day together. We went to see a movie then had drinks and a bite to eat. We’d done this for the past few years, which was perfect because it was also right around his birthday.

I made him cupcakes just like these. Our favorite kind–chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. We ended up back at the house for a bit, just hanging out in the sunroom talking. Suddenly, Max decided he wanted to eat one cupcake and insisted I have one, too. I declined since I still had a few at home. He said again that it was his favorite.

Very shortly after Max passed away, his parents reached out to thank me for making the cupcakes. Although his dad couldn’t eat them, his mom said Max shared them with her. It’s hard to describe how much something so simple meant. Just because of those cupcakes.”

Photographing Emotion:

Emotions are abstract, so you have to get creative when photographing them. One way to photograph emotion is to notice objects or atmosphere that personifies how you feel. Now obviously inanimate objects don’t have feelings, yet it’s not entirely crazy to see your emotions reflected in them.  You may even take comfort in the recognition of your emotion in something outside yourself.  I wouldn’t even think you were weird if I heard you say – “Hey wilted flower, I know how you feel.”  

[Mother’s Day Flowers – Photographing Emotion]

by Cathy Womack

“I like this photo of the cow because he is alone and looking at me.  It feels like he is asking me to be friends, talk or come visit.  I will say that although loneliness has been an emotion that I have felt through this journey, I have a lot of friends and family that have been very supported of me.  I have heard where people have lost friends with their loss of their spouse but I don’t feel that has happened to me.  I actually feel that some of my husband’s friends are now my friends.  The loneliness I feel is more than people around me, it’s the talks, walks, and just being together that I miss most.”

Do you use photography to cope with grief? Share your insight, experience(s), or special photo project with us in the comments below.

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October 17, 2017

13 responses on "Photographing Grief: Photos and reflections from friends of WYG"

  1. Yes, I have a blog I keep on the loss of my partner. I take lots of photos in nature; places where he would love. I also insert quotes dedicated to him within the photos. I have several photo apps on my iPhone that help me alter the photos artistically as well.

  2. My younger 29 year old brother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in December. He’d never smoked in his life. We lost him August 4th. I’m 11 years older than him and our sister (his twin) and 13 years older than our baby brother. It was just myself and our mom so he felt more like a son to me. My sister, brother, and I are not coping well and Mom had no time to grieve.
    There’s so much more to the story but the only comfort we had was knowing we would lose him and taking pictures and recording conversations can be consoling at times.
    I’d be interested in participating.

  3. In a big season of grief, I spent a lot of time photographing reflections in any way I saw them. Doing so provided a safe space for me to do just that – reflect on where life had been, what was lost and the newness of life coming out of the shadows. After that season, I instinctively ask myself how I am doing when I again find myself capturing reflections be it a challenging time w relationships, work or other life challenges.

  4. This will be so useful for the group work I am doing, some may actually take pictures, but some may participate.

  5. I have 2 grief group that meets bi-weekly and I am going to ask them to participate. The focus on triggers, emotions and objects bringing comfort, or acute pain. So, hopefully you will see several new images.

  6. I’d love to take this course but the only place to sign up seemed to be the August date……Nov. was mentioned but not in the sign up section.

  7. I recently lost my beautiful daughter and one thing that comforts me was her love for photographing nature, I have continued her love and try to capture images as she did. Thank you for this article

    • Debbie so sorry for your loss of losing your daughter. I think that is great you are carrying on her love of taking pictures of nature. God bless you and gives you the comfort you need.

  8. I would like to participate.

  9. Very good idea, I believe.

  10. Catherine Ford-BarbieroOctober 17, 2017 at 2:45 pmReply

    Can you resend the E-Mail as a reminder when it gets closer to the date you are open for adding photos?

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