Her Shroud

“Photographs are there when people pass away,” writes Teju Cole, the photography critic of the New York Times (as well as author and art historian). “They serve as reservoirs of memory and as talismans for mourning.”

In a moving essay in the Times, he writes about his “Mama’s” death (Mama refers to his grandmother), back in Nigeria, where he grew up after being born in the U.S. He wasn’t there when she died, and also couldn’t be there for the burial, because she would be buried the next day, in accordance to Muslim tradition. He resorts to searching through folders on his computers for photos he has of her, from his yearly visits to Nigeria.

Almost everyone is now captured in photographs—and outlived by them.

Her death remains almost impossible to grasp, until he is shown a photo of Mama in her funeral shroud, “tied up with white twine, set out on a bed in front of a framed portrait: a white bundle in vaguely human shape where my grandmother used to be. I burst into hot tears.”

Click here to read this beautiful meditation on photos, family, and memory in its entirety