Who are you, and why do you take photographs at funerals?

by Allison Burke

I am a photographer, and I specialise in funeral photography. The reaction I get from people when I tell them this is often a surprised “Why“?!  I love photography; I do some commercial work and take family and portrait photographs (sometimes of quite well known people), but had reached a point at which I really wanted to do something more meaningful with it. 

Funerals and memorial services are the final major event in a person’s ‘life’. It is as important as any of the other milestones in life. Our departure is every bit as important as our arrival; perhaps not for us, but for those around us. We photograph christenings and weddings as times of celebration, as new phases, beginnings. A funeral may mark the end of a life, but also marks the beginning of a new one for those that linger on, and more and more we are seeking to commemorate the life of the person we are bidding farewell to in a celebratory and positive manner.

So, I asked people I know, friends and colleagues, who had recently lost close family members, how they felt about the idea of having somebody photograph the funeral. Some were quite surprised by the question, but, after listening to my reasoning behind it, most were quite positive and felt it would be nice to have a memento from the day.  Then I spoke to someone who was really struggling to come to terms with her dad’s death, and had been living in denial for quite some time about it. Her initial response to me was to wrinkle her nose up, and she seemed to find the idea a bit unpalatable, but after talking it through over a cup of tea she said “actually, I think it might have helped me to come to terms with what happened……to look at those photos would probably have helped my grieving process“. It was my sister and it was that moment that affirmed my own belief that I just might make a positive difference to people’s lives here.

Funeral photography, memorial photography, remembrance photography, or however it is packaged, comes down to this for me: It has to do some good for those who remain in life, it goes without saying that it has to be carried out thoughtfully, with compassion and respect, but above all else, it must come from the heart, and when it does, it can be a beautiful and touching way to remember this significant moment.