Cruel and Tender… the final blog post

This assignment came at a rather delicate time for me as I had lost my beloved grandmother in the same month but I’m pleased to say it also helped me to deal with my own feelings of loss and sadness whilst always remembering the tender moments the ‘Queen Bee’ and I shared.

At first I tried to be impartial and stick to the brief then it became apparent to me that I wanted to explore death in pictures so I started calling local Funeral Directors, Crematoriums and Cemeteries around where I live.

Finding somewhere to visit, explore and photograph turned out to be more difficult than I had envisaged but Kingston Crematorium was kind enough to agree to my visiting so long as I was respectful of the place, its ‘residents’ and shared the photos with them.

The Research:

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I began my research by looking into Semiotics, as suggested by Zig (see blog post here). It took me right back to when I worked in advertising. Everything had a meaning, it was meticulously thought through and placed in a certain way or in a certain colour because it had an quasi hidden meaning. Some advertising

It turns out that Semiotics itself (in my humble opinion) can be very open to interpretation. For example, it can relate to the visual language expressed in a painting, a secret message it is trying to convey in an advert or a series of codes that are completely vague to some but obvious to certain communities. Take a photo of an old woman holding a broom, for instance, we all know it is just an old woman with a broom right? But to some she might be a Witch or represent one! See how easy it can be do read something as Semiotics that may not even be there at all?

As I dug deeper into the connection between gravestones and symbolism I came across some very amusing facts, here are some of my favourite:

  • In Victorian times cemeteries were often used as picnic areas
  • Up until 18th century people were buried in their land and their grave was surrounded by iron bars to prevent them from escaping if they turned into zombies or vampires
  • Puritans often had that Skull and Crossbones put on their Headstones. It was a reminder that they had gone to Heaven but if you did not believe as they did you would go to hell. It was called a “Memento Mori” which is Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’.
  • Many gravestones face east so the deceased will raise with the sun on their rebirth day
  • It is believed that the use of tombstones started so ghosts could be weighed down.

The Test Shots – pls see here

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On my first visit I was made to feel welcome and was even blessed with the most gorgeous golden light. I spent a good couple of hours walking the grounds, taking pictures of the tombs and the flowers left by loved ones. There was something sad yet peaceful, beautiful about the place. Reading some of the inscriptions was particularly touching and I was, once again, facing my own demons that day.

 

I had lost my Nan the previous week and that same week also marked 3yrs since our lovely Hayley passed away shortly after giving birth to her 4th child. She was only 39 yrs old at the time of her passing. After 3 painful years since losing her she was finally laid to rest that same week. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you this… that was a tough week indeed.

There were a handful of photography principles I tried to follow during this shoot, there were:

  • Leading Lines – the cemetery grounds was full of paths and narrow lanes making it ideal for capturing leading lines. It also kept with the theme of ‘departure’

 

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  • Follow the light – although I am always keen to shoot against the light (I love starbursts, sunbursts and shadows) the beautiful light bathed KCC in the most gorgeous colour. I felt compelled to follow the light and perpetuate that beautify, serene, early morning scene.
  • Make the Most Of The Strong Shadows – with the advantage of such great early morning light I was able to photograph images with great shadows. Shooting against the sun was particularly effective when capturing sunburst breaking through the tree branches.
  • Close Ups – once inside the chapel I tried to take a few close ups of some objects of great meaning to the setting. For example, the prayer books, the place where the coffins rest during the ceremony and even the discreet button that prompts the curtains to close around the coffin and send the coffin to the level below ready to be placed in the furnace. I also took some close up of the flowers left at the graveyard, they felt so emotional, some had already started to die and it was very much in tune with the place.

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  • Candid Shots – these were taken by chance when I spotted a hurst arriving for the service. These felt very personal and I did not include them in the final images submitted for the project.

The Evaluation:

Cruel and Tender 8I was happy with my final images and have learned a fair amount about capturing emotions, solitude and sorrow.

This project helped me learn to shoot in conditions I would not shoot otherwise, take candid photos I had never thought of. I practiced both Manual shooting as well as using Aperture Priority (the sun was rising after all and the light was changing rapidly). Preparing the photos for printing was also interesting. I got it wrong a couple of times but recognized where I was going wrong – it was my light-bulb moment!

In terms of Health & Safety it is becoming ‘almost’ second nature to watch out for slippery grounds, make sure plugs, leads, wires are all out of the way. Funnily enough, footwear is also a vital part of Health & Safety, as I found out when shooting on icy roads!

The Submitted Images:

Overall I am pleased with the outcome of this project and will look back fondly on the morning I spent wandering around a cemetery!

Thanks for reading,

Paula

 

P1, P2, P3, P4, D1, D2, D3, M1, M2, M3

 

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Cruel and Tender

Cruel and Tender… sounds almost like the last time I went home to see my dying Nan. Cruel because I knew I had come home to say goodbye. Tender because she had no idea she was dying.

Ageing is a terrible thing. Not because of the wrinkles and fragility of the body as it ages but because of the scary thought that time is running out. One may cease to exist at a moment’s notice or not even that.

The cruelty happens not when the departed are gone. It takes place slowly and painfully everyday for all of those who are left behind attempting to carry on with the lives once the dreaded events have taken place.

What has this got to do with my assignment? I have decided to photograph the dying, the ageing, the ones who have lived so much yet their brains have given up and they live day-by-day without any idea of who those occasional visitors are.

Their faces might look familiar but dementia sufferers aren’t capable of reaching far enough into their memories to recognise those visitors who are in fact their loved ones.

Is there anything more cruel that looking at someone knowing full well they have no recollection of you? The tender part is our own reaction when placed in that situation. We need to be strong, yet kind, tender and above all loving.

Yes, for the Cruel and Tender Assignment I am photographing the dying, the dead and/or their space.

A Poem for The Queen Bee

My memory of you will stay,
I will love you to my dying day,
The heart of my passion, in you, it lies,
We all miss you desperately, that’s why we cry.

In memory of my grandmother who passed away on 9th January 2017.

Exploring ideas for Assignment Two

During the coming term we will be studying Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology and as part of it, we were already given our next assignment.
Assignment Two is divided into 3:
  • Still Life
  • Portrait
  • Cruel and Tender
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By Mrs T Photography

At first glance, the titles sound a little scary but as I started researching I began to formulate some interesting ideas. In fact, the new assignment sounds so exciting that I can hardly wait to get back to class.

For Still Life, I might explore and attempt to set up a Georgia O’Keefee-esque photo shoot.  I saw her exhibition a little while back at the Tate Modern and was mesmerised by her work with still flowers.
The way in which O’Keefee used nature’s amazing shapes, highlighted its colours and added a hint of subtle eroticism is nothing short of genious. Some have referred her to the ‘Lady Gaga’ of her time in the way she was so ahead of her own audience.  More about her later!
As for Portrait Using Classical Paintings as inspiration, I must confess Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring fascinates me. I love the mystery surrounding this girl. To this day  her identity is unknown.

According to the BBC Johannes Vermeer is recognised as a master of light who specialised in painting women in sparse domestic interiors, and his pictures are prized in part because they are often suffused with mystery”.

Over the years The Girl with Pear Earrings Painting has been used as inspiration to many portrait photos, books and movies. Could it be my inspiration too? We shall see.

As for the portrait part of the assignment, I might explore “The Girl with a Pearl Earring”
Now for the most difficult part… Cruel and Tender. I am still undecided about the right way to interpret this and to photograph it.
Some ideas that come to mind are:
  • Alzheimers & Dementia – cruel brain disease that robs us from our loved ones while they are still ‘with us’. No amount of tenderness can jiggle their memory enough.
  • Rehabilitation of Military Personnel injured in action –  Once the physical injuries heal, the endless battle for spiritual healing begins. Could tenderness of those around our heros save them? Michael Stokes is an American contemporary photographer, best known for his controversial photographs of veterans who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Animal Cruelty or Tenderloins – I’m all for defending animal rights BUT I love my food and my meat! Some feel so strongly about how animals are ‘slaughtered’ so we can all enjoy our T-Bone steaks, bacon, sausages that they decide to be vegetarians. I’m not sure I will ever be able to go that far. That said, if I know animals are killed for ‘superfluous’ reasons like shark soup, ivory, shoes (I’m thinking alligator’s!), etc then yes I draw the line!

If you have managed to read my blog post up until now, wow I’m impressed!  Well done you 🙂

Thanks for sticking with me!

MrsT, x