Picture Me Grieving

by admin on February 22, 2016

I’ve got a short story about a situation that struck me as odd and a bit inappropriate. A long time has passed but this still irks me a little.

I grew up with my beloved grandma never living more than a few minutes away from me. Given that I was home schooled for a few years, my parents both worked during the day (my mom was part time and I still did well in public school and university later), and I had the most obnoxious brother, I spent a lot of time visiting my grandma. She had some health problems that hindered her mobility but she was one of the best loved people in our community and she was my best friend.

She died suddenly in 2001 when I was away at university and I couldn’t reschedule all of my exams or afford a plane ticket home for the funeral. I was heartbroken but I held it together and still managed to study and work.

I moved closer to my family a couple of years later and everyone decided to have a small memorial for the family who hadn’t been able to make the funeral. We had just a small graveside gathering and I could not stop crying. I was discreet but that was the moment that I realized that she really was gone and it was the worst moment of my life.

A family friend had been asked to sing and she did a lovely job. This woman and her family have a generations long friendship with ours and this was very special. This woman also brought her camera. After the service was over my brother and I kind of clung to each other because he was hurting just as much. And out of nowhere this woman began taking photos of us crying and hugging. She just intruded on that moment and took a few photos of us without asking.

She’s mentioned those photos a couple of times over the years in passing. “Oh I have to remember to send you and your brother the beautiful pictures I got of you at your dear grandmother’s service. I just love them and you should have copies.”  I’ve never seen them and I don’t want to see them. I’m sure she captured our grief beautifully but I don’t want the reminder and neither of us agreed to be someone’s photography project.

So here’s my question. Is photography at funerals/memorials normal or was she overstepping? 0217-16

When my father died, I was unable to fly across country due to medical restrictions placed on me by my doctor. Two Ehellions who lived in the area very kindly offered to attend the internment ceremony at a national cemetery and take photos for me.   They were very discreet and their photos turned out to be the only ones taken that day by anyone.   I and many family members remain grateful for those photos, particularly more elderly and distant relatives who could not attend.

When my father-in-love died a few years later, he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery and someone in the family took photos of that as well.  He was buried with full military honors including caisson horses, 21 gun salute, and a large military band playing in the background. It was impressive and the photos remind me of how I felt being there and my awe of the respect shown for his service.

So, obviously I consider photography at memorial services and burials to be appropriate.  The question you are really asking is whether a person has the right to invade a private moment by sticking a camera in your face.   I think that can cross a line into indiscretion.   Essentially a private moment between you and your brother was interrupted by the addition of a third person who was not intruding for the purposes of sharing your grief but rather to record it thus distracting you from the moment and its significance.    Had she taken the photo from a distance you might have felt differently…I don’t know.  And the second question is how these photos are copied and shared.     It’s one thing to share photos with the family and quite another to post them on Facebook where the whole world might see them.

One thing you might want to consider.  This very old family friend may take comfort from the photos because it reminds her of own grief and that others loved your grandmother and share her depth of grief.

{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

Aleko February 22, 2016 at 4:14 am

I find photography at funerals etc just plain weird, but I’m a dinosaur: so many people today feel that an event literally has not happened unless they have photographs of it, that I suppose people like us just have to make allowances for their feelings, while asking them to respect ours.

I agree that when this family friend calls these pictures ‘lovely’ she surely means that she finds comfort and beauty in the familial love captured in them. Yes, it was intrusive and tactless but cut her some slack, she too loved your grandmother and was dealing with her feelings in her own way, it’s not like having a paparazzo sticking a camera in your face.

So perhaps the best course would be to reply saying quite clearly that you don’t want to see those pictures, ever; that you are glad they give her comfort – you don’t want to hurt her – but your mileage varies. And that you very particularly would like her assurance that these extremely private images, which you wouldn’t have authorised her taking in the first place had you been asked, will not be shared with anyone, not on social media or even passed around family and friends. (Except your brother; if he wants to see and have them, that’s his right.) Be nice about it, but be firm. You don’t want to be confronted with these in a relative’s family album, still less Facebook, Heaven forbid, and you have an absolute moral and indeed legal right to insist on that.

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Rebecca February 22, 2016 at 4:44 am

I’m inclined to think that this person was being intrusive with her camera. I sure wouldn’t want photos capturing me crying and hugging in grief.

Perhaps if she had been asked to come and photograph the event, it would be one thing, but still disrespectful to snap pictures of people crying. There’s a reason people go away to be alone to cry, and that is because it’s not the face they wish to show the world. At a service like this, people come together to grieve, but it’s still not something they want to be photographed doing.

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Mustard February 22, 2016 at 5:20 am

I can see that taking photographs of the service, discreetly of course, could help mourners who were unable to attend, but the OP is specifically objecting to photographs taken after the service. Perhaps my thinking is clouded by the fact my idiot BIL did exactly the same thing after my father’s service. My husband is a tolerant, easy-going man but he was absolutely furious and put a stop to it in no uncertain terms. Private grief is just that.

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Stephbwfern February 22, 2016 at 6:35 am

Photos at funerals (and services of that nature) in my experience seem to differ greatly between cultures.
At funerals I attended growing up, no one would have dreamed of taking photos.
My husbands family in Sri Lankan, and they tend to be a very “photo happy” culture – you know, every family gathering is snapped 800 times with every one sitting in the lounge, now at the table, now outside, now with Aunty on this side, now with all the kids at the front etc.
Imagine my horror, when flicking through photo albums at my in-laws house, I opened to a page filled with photos of a corpse in an open casket. I asked my husband about it and he was equally shocked(he was born in Australia, so doesn’t really identify with Sti Lankan culture). We asked my mother-in-law who explained this was not uncommon at all within their community and family.
Still a bit bizarre and Victorian to my thinking, but anyway…..

Still, it’s all very different to getting all up in a grieving person’s grill to photograph their tears. That’s just very insensitive.

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Jewel February 22, 2016 at 8:13 am

Photographing mourners grief or the corpse is highly inappropriate, morbid, and intrusive, in my opinion. If someone wants to photograph the flowers or the headstone or a wide shot of the church or cemetery to remember the event, I don’t have so much of an issue with that. I do know that my MIL has a tendency to be the former type of photographer. I’m highly prepared to take the camera right out of her clutches with a few choice words for her if she ever attempts those kinds of photos at the funerals of any of my family members.

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o_gal February 22, 2016 at 11:43 am

I don’t know if you have that right, either legally or ethically. If she is not being obnoxious about it, just taking photos quietly, then you must simply just ignore her. If it is bothering the primary mourners, then it is up to them to do something about it. Just because you find it morbid does not mean that other people do. After all, funerary photography was very wide spread a number of decades ago (in the US). Personally, I don’t even like viewings – I don’t want the memory of the person in the casket in my brain. But if someone else prefers it, and does not disturb others while doing it, it’s not my place to try to get it shut down, particulary by yanking something out of someone else’s possession in active use.

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Jewel February 22, 2016 at 12:50 pm

No, I won’t ignore my MIL taking photos of this nature at any the funerals of MY family members. It will be my place to stop her and, if necessary, to take her camera for the day. You, of course, are free to disagree.

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Dee February 22, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Unless the church has a policy that prevents photographs and/or is willing to implement a policy upon the wishes of the immediate family I don’t believe you can prevent your MIL from taking pictures, Jewel. You can do what you like but if the church doesn’t have a problem with the practice then you might find yourself in contravention of the church’s rules. These issues should be ironed out beforehand with the church in question to find out what you can and cannot expect. If MIL is not disturbing others I suspect she will be allowed to quietly go about her photographing, even if it is highly distasteful to you.

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padua February 23, 2016 at 12:19 pm

i completely agree. what may not bring you comfort may do so for someone else.

Kali March 4, 2016 at 6:53 am

Jewel WOULD be one of the primary mourners in those circumstances.

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The Elf February 26, 2016 at 2:07 pm

The whole thing could have been – and should have been – resolved with conversation. The photographer should ask the people hosting the funeral if they can take pictures and what kind of pictures. If that is not possible, then the photographer should be discreet and run all pictures past the people in them, deleting/destroying them as needed.

A close friend of mine loves taking pictures. Thankfully, she also is very cognizant of permissions and ethics. Not a picture ever goes “public” (such as on Facebook) without the permission of the people in them. I’ve nixed a few simply because I don’t like the way I look in them.

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DGS February 22, 2016 at 8:24 am

In my culture, photography at funerals is considered extremely inappropriate, tasteless and intrusive, but certainly, that is not the case in other cultures – one of my questions would be, is photography at funerals something that is considered the acceptable norm in OP’s culture? What also sounds inappropriate is that it sounds like the picture of OP and her brother clinging to one another and grieving was taken distastefully and intrusively, and then, OP is reminded about the picture, which she has not seen.

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Just4Kicks February 22, 2016 at 8:28 am

I admit that my post forming while I was reading the story was that I don’t understand people who bring cameras to viewings or funerals.
Then, after reading the story all the way through, I do see how the examples in the Admin. answer, as well as a few of the posters examples, make perfect sense.
I never though of photos at a funeral THAT way.
I also agree with the OP that I wouldn’t pictures taken of myself crying my eyes out in a moment of pure grief.
One thing really bothers me though, and admittedly probably NONE of my business, but my heart broke for the OP when she said she “couldn’t afford a plane ticket home” for the original service.
You sound like you were the closest one to your dear grandma….couldn’t your parents or another relative have paid for your flight home?
Again, my apologies for sticking my two cents in, but that’s really sad to me that no one would pay for you to come home for the original service.

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Aletheia February 22, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Re: “One thing really bothers me though, and admittedly probably NONE of my business, but my heart broke for the OP when she said she “couldn’t afford a plane ticket home” for the original service.
You sound like you were the closest one to your dear grandma….couldn’t your parents or another relative have paid for your flight home?”

OP also says they couldn’t reschedule all of their exams, so… it’s entirely possible that a family member *did* offer the money, but OP couldn’t take them up on it. It’s a shame schools act like that, especially if proof *is* offered that a death occurred, but sometimes it’s a choice between failing the class(es) or attending a funeral…

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Just4Kicks February 23, 2016 at 6:19 am

I stand corrected, thanks!
I missed the exam part, only that OP was at University and couldn’t afford the flight home.
And, yes, I agree it’s a shame if her teachers/professors wouldn’t let her out of exams for a loved ones funeral.
When my brother-in-law committed suicide, my husband’s bosses (at the time) gave him a really hard time over bereavement leave.
He got three days paid leave for the loss of a spouse, parent, or child and only one for siblings….which in my opinion, stinks.
He ended up taking off the whole week, and got a hard time over it.

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padua February 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm

some schools tend to be more lenient when the individual is an immediate family member. i couldn’t get finals week off for my grandfather either, but i do know of a few who were able to be present for a parent’s or sibling’s funeral.

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Just4Kicks February 23, 2016 at 5:10 pm

I mentioned this post to my oldest son who is in college.
My son’s roommate lost a grandparent halfway through the semester.
He told my son that his professors were split 50/50 in reaction to his going home for the week.
A couple of his teachers actually gave him work ahead of the class, with notes saying “If you get this done, it’s what we are working while you’re gone. If not, that’s okay too….we know you’re going through a hard time.”
The rest of his teachers were such jerks about his not being there, he actually considered not leaving for the funeral. “That’s all part of being an ADULT!!! People DIE!!! The whole world doesn’t stop turning!!!”
The morning he packed up to go, my son asked if he needed help, and (my son) told him that he was glad he going home.
His friend said, “I really need to be with my family….I’ve known my grandpop all my life.
The teachers that are being jerks about me leaving….Well, in six months I probably won’t ever see them again.

Becca February 24, 2016 at 2:23 pm

I’m so enraged that your husband’s bosses would be like that. It’s bizarre to me to have such unfeeling, heartless, nasty supervisors. I’m so used to working directly with the owners of companies, so to think that any of them would ever give me a hard time during a time of great loss, I cannot comprehend.

Every time an employee has ever come to me with a sick family member or death, I am quick to tell them to go do what they need to and we’ll figure it out until they get back. Then again, go figure that everyone at these places I’ve been are more of a family than one of those places you wake up and debate if you /really/ need the job and how hard it would be to jump a train to the next one, sigh.

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Just4Kicks February 25, 2016 at 5:42 am

@Becca: Thank you for the nice comment!
At that time, I was the receptionist at the same office my husband worked at.
I only took off the day of the funeral for my brother in law.
I ignored comments about my husband taking off the whole week for as long as I could, then towards the end of the week, my emotions and the stress of the situation took over, and I let quite a few people have it.
“You know…I really CANNOT believe your husband isn’t coming in at ALL THIS week!!!”
My reply: “you know….I really CANNOT believe how downright cruel you are! His brother committed suicide!!! He is not only dealing with his own grief, but his parents are a MESS!!!”
Of course those are the same two faced jerks who, upon my husband’s return, came up to him and layed on the fake sympathy.

Kimberly February 22, 2016 at 9:25 am

This is a case of everything that is old becomes new again. When photography was new death photography was a thing – because it might be the only image you had of the deceased.

My Mother’s family have always been spread out. Photographs of funerals have often been sent to those that couldn’t attend because of travel and expense. My sister and I live far away – and hate viewing and such. My cousins will ask us if we want photographs from a viewing/funeral and we always decline. The big difference between what happened with the situation posted here is it was an intrusion that was not wanted.

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Dee February 22, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Yes, it was quite common, in North America, to have photos taken of the deceased with the immediate family. Even posed photos of Mother cradling her dead baby. We now see it as grotesque but since photographs were expensive and rare to procure it often meant having the only photo of a young person. Something to remember them by.

The custom has continued for some cultures and when my Grandmother was photographed in her coffin, as tradition, I found it very distasteful. I did not line up for the photo. There are plenty of pics of her when she was alive so I didn’t feel it was appropriate to get a shot of her when she clearly didn’t look happy or healthy. But to each his/her own.

What is wrong about the OP’s story is that the friend did not get eye contact and agreement from the subjects she was photographing. Used to be, one would go around a party or gathering openly wielding the camera. Folks sat up and smiled, or got up and left the scene in order to avoid being in the pic. Nowadays, everybody’s got a camera of some sort on their person and, the younger crowd especially, thinks nothing of snapping pics of anybody and everybody. And then, of course, throwing those pics up on Facebook or whatever, with no thought to the feelings of the people who were not in agreement with having the pic taken in the first place. It’s an etiquette issue. Just because you have a camera doesn’t mean you should take that picture.

In this case, the OP should be honest with her friend and tell her that those pictures show her, and her brother, experiencing the deep pain at the loss of Grandma, and she has no wish to revisit that. If the pics are comforting to the friend then she should keep them for herself and not push her wishes on the OP. If she is a real friend, that is.

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NostalgicGal February 23, 2016 at 1:54 pm

As a child I was given a camera about the size of a recipe card, and learned to take pictures with the camera held at my waist. A lot of my mom’s side of family would evaporate if a camera came out and went up to the face… so this way I did capture a few of the more elusive relatives. One of mom’s brothers was extremely camera shy and I had gotten a couple of him a few months before he passed on. When we started to deal with the funeral and that, I brought up those pictures, and so they had one to publish. I was asked for the negatives (and never got them back) so they could share those pictures and put some in the rememberance scrapbook.

Was it poor of me to take unsolicited photos? More yes than no. Did I know better? No. Did I take lots and lots? No, the day of film and they printed it and you paid for it bad or good, photos cost and you didn’t waste film. Probably 200 photos over 10 years… or a roll a summer family reunion, and a few around holidays. My treasure trove of photos helped fill in some for most of that side of the family. Dusting off my tuffet inside the door to e-hell and parking my derriere….

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Dee February 23, 2016 at 9:15 pm

I think the concern regarding unsolicited photos is much more valid now, with digital making it so easy for a person to take pics by the thousands and then post them online, with little to no hesitation or effort. A film camera is much less of a threat and seemed to be accepted as a necessary evil (for some who are camera-shy) when out in public, at a party, etc. So, I don’t think you were in the wrong, NostalgicGal, as you didn’t intend anything nefarious with those photos and they were only for your own perusal or to share with close family and friends unlike now, with people posting them online without thought to others. The combination of digital and the internet makes it a much different situation, requiring restraint that is often not employed.

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Margaret February 22, 2016 at 9:56 am

My cousin’s husband, who asked for permission first, took pictures at my mother’s after-funeral luncheon. This was fine with me. No one took pictures at the service or at the grave site, where people were crying. That would have been objectionable to me and my siblings.

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Lenore February 22, 2016 at 10:13 am

When my sister passed away in 2001, nobody took photos at the funeral. When my MIL passed away in 2008, nobody took photos at the funeral.
And I’m glad about that. Having been there for both of them when they passed, the last thing I want is photos showing my family and I grieving.
By all means, take photos of the flowers, the food. But don’t take photos of people sobbing their hearts out because someone they loved dearly is gone. It’s gruesome and macabre.
Then again, a few years ago, I was walking to gym, and happened across a car accident that had fatalities. The crash site was surrounded by looky-loos taking photos of the injured and dying. So I’m not surprised that these days people have no issue with taking photographs of the mourners at a funeral.

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Cat February 22, 2016 at 10:48 am

Funerals seldom bring out the best in people. To decide to snap pictures of people grieving as you and your brother were strikes me as intrusive and extremely rude.
If she tries to give you copies, the best reply I can think of is, “Thank you, but no. That was a very personal and private moment of extreme grief between me and my brother that we did not wish to share with anyone. I would prefer not to be reminded of it.”

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PJ February 22, 2016 at 11:01 am

I wouldn’t have a problem with pictures taken at a funeral to preserve/share memories of the day, but when individuals become the focus rather than the crowd as a whole, then the photographer has overstepped. At that point, they’ve gone from photographing an event to photographing an intimate moment that wasn’t meant for them to share.

I can make some allowances for those happy occasions like weddings or new babies where someone snaps a sweet picture of a new dad kissing his newborn, as the picture will probably continue to make them smile and bring up happy memories. Sharing a picture of someone in a private moment while experience the worst grief of their life only feels like a terrible intrusion.

In the end, though, I would assume that the photographer had her heart in the right place and didn’t realize that she was invading your privacy in that moment. There is a trend lately to capture every. single. thing. on our cameras and she may be caught up in that. She may also be looking beyond the grief and seeing a lovely relationship between OP and her brother. I guess it is one of those moments where I’d just give the dear friend a pass, and hope the subject fades into the past.

Off topic to admin: I’m taking a guess, here, that your deceased loved one was not a former president of the US, and thus didn’t qualify for a 21-gun salute at his funeral. Possibly 19, 17, 15, or some other number of guns(aka cannons) for generals, vice presidents, governors, etc, or a 3-round volley? Many of which are commonly mistaken for the very rare 21-gun salute. 🙂

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Denise February 22, 2016 at 11:11 am

I don’t think her intention was to photograph your grief. Rather, I think she saw a moment of true sibling love and support wanted to capture the beauty of it. Sometimes, changing perspective can make all the difference. Maybe ask her why she thought it was an appropriate time to take a photo? Not to accuse her of wrong doing, but to clarify her thought process.

I do not care for photography during funerals. When our son was laid to rest, we asked that if photos were taken, they not be made public or treated in a way that I would have to look at them or know they existed. It was one of the hardest things I ever experienced and would much rather focus on the positive of his living and remember the parts of the day in a way that I wanted to. A way that would bring me comfort.

For his birthday every year, we have a small celebration. This is highly photographed and shared.

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Just4Kicks February 22, 2016 at 3:35 pm

@Denise: please accept my condolences on the loss of your Dear Son. I’m so sorry.

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padua February 23, 2016 at 12:25 pm

i agree. oftentimes people don’t know how to reach out to someone experiencing the loss and she may be doing what she thinks is a kindness.

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Princess Buttercup February 22, 2016 at 11:22 am

I have taken pictures at many funerals, however, I have some personal rules I follow.
1) Don’t take pictures unless I’ve been asked to. I used to always carry my camera and am known for being a photographer so it wasn’t uncommon for people to seek me out and request I take pictures.
2) Don’t be distracting. That means no flash, and minimize the shutter noise as much as possible. People are hear to greive, not get distracted by someone moving around.
3) I’m here to capture what is going on mostly so that people not there can see a little bit and therefore not feel so left out. I am not there for artsy captures or happy smiles.

My family for various reasons, tends to not get together except for a funeral. As such, people want a picture of uncle so-and-so who has bad health and may not get another picture opportunity. Or picture of all the cousins together because that never happens anymore.
But actual ceremony pictures are taken from a distance. If I’m taking an individual picture, I tell them, “before you leave, X has requested I get a picture of you.” that way they have time to calm down, dry their eyes, etc as needed before X ends up with a picture that would mortify the individual.

A few years ago my Grandma died. Her funeral was being held about 16 hours away from me. There were other family members who were just as far or farther who couldn’t afford the trip like I couldn’t. I was contacted by multiple family members asking if I would be there to take pictures for them so they could still see it even though they couldn’t be there. At the last minute, thanks to generosity of a family member and a friend, I was able to drive to the funeral. I took lots of pictures and a video of the service. I then made sure those were made available to the family that couldn’t be there and they were extremely greatful to get to feel like they had a small part of the day even though financially they actually couldn’t.

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Becca February 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

I think it all has to do with the invasion of privacy. I have never wanted to snap pictures in a graveyard because I find them sacred places, I even turn off my car radio when I pull in to visit my dear childhood friend who passed away when we were kids. It’s just a matter of respect, putting a camera in the face of two grieving siblings is tacky to put it nicely.

I think your family friend meant well, thankfully but doesn’t really get that she invaded your privacy. I’d honestly say “I prefer not to see the pictures, that’s not a time I want to have in my scrapbook.”

I have had moments at a cemetery where I stop and think “why would they be doing that?”, there was one loud celebration at a grave site when I was there and it startled me into a panic attack, it was so out of the blue.

I’ve been asked to take pictures for others of just old grave markers and I told them kindly that I wasn’t comfortable doing that.

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Margo February 22, 2016 at 11:36 am

I think this is a situation where there is no right or wrong answer, Some people will find it intrusive or morbid, others will find it comforting or helpful. It does not sound as though the person who took the photos did so with any ill intent – they are presumably of the mind set that I would be helpful or comforting to have those photos available.
OP, I think next time she mentions the photos to you, or even if you are speaking to her and can bring the subject up, it would be appropriate for you to say something to her her along the lines of “Thank you for offering, but I don’t want to have copies ofthose photos. It’s kind of you to offer them to us, and I am glad that you like them, but I would find it upsetting rather than comfoting to see those photos of us grieving, and as it’s such a private emotion I would really appreciate it if you didn’t share those photos with other people, either”

I think that taking this kind of photos, or photos of the corpse, could feel very intrusive or morbid, I don;t think that they necessarily *are* thoe things – so much depends on the individuals concerned.

On a personal level, I would have no interest at all in a photo of the church to remember the event – the building in which a service took place would not be something I would have any particualr interest in remembering. I might well like to have photos of the people who attended – I have a degree of faceblindness and my visual memory for people is not good, so having photograpghs of those who atended might very well be both helpful (in remembering who to thank, who to contact etc) Also, funerals are often when people who don’t often met up all turn up, so there is a degree of cross-pver between ‘phograpging mourners’ and ‘photographing family/friends I don’t often see’ – persoanlly I would be far more likely to be comfortable taking, or having photos taken, away from the graveside – where I live, it’s normal for there to be a gathering, and usually food and drink (even if it’s only tea and biscuits) fter a service, so photos of family etc could be taken there, but I suspect that that is another thing which will vary from place to place and family to family.

Taking pictures of the peson who has died is an odd one for me – I’ve never done it or seen it done, and I certianly would not want or need a photo myself. However, if I was unable to get to the funeral, I can understand the possibility I might want it – I found it enormously helpful to be able to se my grandparents after they died, for instance – becuase it was so obvious, seeing them, that they were not there any more. I found that very comforting knowing that the shellwe were burying / cremating was definitely not the person I loved. I don’t think that I would find a photogragh helpful in the same way, if I were unable to get to the funeral in person, but I can imagine that it could be helpful for some in that situation.

I think that its importnat to remember that we all grieve in different ways, and it feels unnecessarily unkind and dismissive to assume that something is wrong or inappropriate because it is differnt to what you would do or feel. Of course, it is always appropruiate to consier the feeligns and wishes of the people who were closest to the deceased, but even there, it’s easy to get it wrong if you are trying to do something which *you* would see as thoughtful and appropriate and which they do not (which seems to have been the situation with the OP)

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stacey February 22, 2016 at 11:54 am

It seems to me that the sting of the memory comes from the feeling of having been intruded upon. When people take photos, it should be with permission. These are all questions that can be decided in advance. And if the photographer is so lacking in skill and in discretion that the subject feels that the event was interrupted… the WRONG person is taking photos. The difficulty with events like weddings, funerals and baptisms is that they are events that are already loaded with emotional significance and often with the weight of grief or even of joy. It’s not fair to ask normal humans who are laboring under such emotional conditions to consent in the moment. So I’d say, yes, this is clearly a social “foul ball” and the lady in question is not only wrong to have intruded, but to have done so repeatedly by mentioning the photos without ever having received consent to take or to retain them. Logically, the event was hosted by family members of the deceased and the privilege of consent rested with them. No one else should arrogate that to themselves. At the least, a discreet question ahead of the service and a camera and photographer suitably skilled and discreet would serve. (Though I have to say, Admin, that I can see where the case was both quite different for your family… and that permission was evidently sought from someone prior to photos being taken.)

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Meeples February 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm

I once dated someone whose job was to do videotapes (not still photos) of funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. People from all over are buried there, and not all family members are able to be in attendance. He showed me thank-you letters he got, and I dissolved into a puddle of tears because it was so clear how much the videotapes meant to people. I’ve attended ceremonies there in person (I live in the area), and it’s difficult to convey just how impressive the ritual of a military ceremony is.

I think that the photographer in this post was well-intentioned but a little clueless. It’s one thing to take photos of the ceremony (i.e., the priest, the military band, the flowers), but quite another to take pictures of the mourners.

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Carolyn February 22, 2016 at 2:03 pm

We Skyped a funeral for a family member who was unable to fly due to medical reasons. (I have since seen advertisements for a company offering online streaming of funerals for a fee but this was just done with a cell phone hotspot & a laptop with webcam in the church, the graveside service they did with just the phone camera).

However, I think live streaming of a current event is different than pictures for later. No pictures were taken for later. (And there was no body – just cremains).

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keloe February 22, 2016 at 2:06 pm

In my country pictures at funerals are maybe not standard, but not unusual either. Depends where you are.

At my grandmother’s funeral, a professional photographer approached my father and his brother at the church before the service, asking if they would like him to take some pictures. They chose to do so, figuring they would rather have some and not look at them than regret not having any. They photographer turned out to be really good – he knew the church, so he knew good spots to take pictures from, was hardly noticeable, and didn’t use flash. He accompanied us to the grave and took some pictures of the interrment too. He never got into anyone’s face. The pictures are beautiful and we sought him out again when we buried my grandfather two years later. None of the attendants took pictures. (Although I can see, for example, taking one before the ceremony of the coffin (closed) with the flowers, on request of relatives who were not able to attend, if there is no professional photographer).

On the other hand, in the part of the country where my mother is from, in the villages, it’s still not unusual to have the coffin at home, open, with an all-night vigil going on. All relatives who can show up for funerals, and they do take this opportunity to take pictures, and those pictures often enough show the open coffin. I have seen my share of those (and of open coffins). To be honest, I don’t find that very strange either – I have been seeing it all my life, my grandmother took me to the vigil for her late brother when I was 6, and it took place in his living room (I didn’t last all nigh, of course, my mother came to collect me after about an hour).

I think it really depends. What is important for me is that no one takes pictures of people who clearly do not want it. And I believe that intimate emotional moments should be off-limits, as it’s usually too intrusive.

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Pat February 22, 2016 at 3:25 pm

There is no right or wrong answer. My grandmother was an immigrant from Eastern Europe and when her mother died (in Europe) my grandmother was sent a photo of her mother in her casket. This was common at the time (many years ago). Victorians were well known for taking pictures of their deceased loved ones, often posing them as though they were alive. Often this was the only photo the family would have of their loved one. Just Google Victorian post mortem photography and you will see many examples – some of them very touching. You can see how precious the deceased was to the living. I’m not suggesting that people should intrude on others with their cameras, just that whether photographs should be taken depends on the situation and the culture. Some of the squeamishness I’m reading about in the comments is a pretty modern phenomenon.

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LovleAnjel February 22, 2016 at 5:10 pm

My father’s family is Polish (immigrated to the US 100 years ago), and they photograph the deceased at the viewing. It’s now my father’s job, and I supposed when he passes it’ll be mine.

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Just4Kicks February 22, 2016 at 3:40 pm

I don’t remember WHAT we were actually trying to find on You Tube one day, but we accidentally typed in a misspelling of the key words, and came across “death photography” from way back in the day when it was commonplace to prop up the deceased next to the surviving family members and take pictures.
They (we only looked one or two, then I exited out saying “we are all going to have nightmares….let’s move on!!!”) were very macabre and unsettling….to say the least.

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MsDani13 February 22, 2016 at 4:33 pm

People who take pictures of the deceased or of the attendants at funerals have always struck me as odd. I do not view bodies at funerals so I certainly dont want a picture of the deceased. And I definitely dont want a camera stuck in my face while grieving.!

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JD February 22, 2016 at 5:15 pm

At any funerals I’ve attended so far, pictures might be taken afterward, when the tears have cleared and family is eating/gathered at a home after the service, with far flung family members posing with each other. At many funerals I’ve attended, no pictures were taken at all, at any point. I’ve never been to any funerals where pictures were taken during the service. I realize that’s not the way every culture does it, though.
OP felt intruded upon– I think I would have, as well. If I’d been asked if my picture might be taken, I could have agreed or disagreed, but then it would be my choice if they were taken or not. When my siblings and I all stood clinging tightly to each other and crying after the burial of our parents, I never even thought of anyone taking photos, and thankfully, no one did! I agree that OP should politely let the photographer know that the OP is not interested in seeing the pictures.
And I have to ask like a post above asks — no one helped OP get home for this funeral? That seems sad. I remember my dad telling me about when his mom died — he was 19 and away from home and the depression was on. There was also a flood of epic proportions in this river valley where he grew up. He was sent ticket money and rode a bus until that route ran out due to flooding, got pre-arranged rides in two different people’s cars going hours out of their way due to flooded roads, and finally was delivered by rowboat to his home for the funeral, but his family had made sure he got there, no matter how difficult it was.

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lakey February 22, 2016 at 5:48 pm

I’ve never seen anyone take photos at a funeral, and since members of my parents generation are in their nineties, I’ve been to a lot of funerals lately. Personally, I find it intrusive, however, I think that people who want to take photographs should discuss it with the closest family members. As long as the family doesn’t mind, it should be okay.

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mark2 February 22, 2016 at 9:05 pm

This was a couple of years AFTER the funeral, so the photographer might have a different view of the proceedings and felt pictures of a secondary affair were appropriate and appreciated.

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Cannibal Queen February 22, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Admin, this is the first time I’ve come across the expression “father- (or mother-) in-love”. I think it’s beautiful – though it may not be applicable to all in-laws!

OP, I’m sorry for your loss. I assume the photographer’s intentions were good, even though her execution was clumsy; but you’re still well within your rights to decline the photos and to ask that they not be displayed publicly (including online).

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Biscuitgirl February 22, 2016 at 11:34 pm

My family has taken pictures of the deceased. The unspoken rule is only close family/friends can do that. It’s usually during private visitation.

We take pictures of people who volunteer to be photographed. Not catching people off guard with photos. It’s one thing to take pictures of family who have gathered for a group photo. Verses lets say a couple of people crying. I wouldn’t want to take pictures of people grieving.

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Mojo February 23, 2016 at 1:22 am

Her actions were inappropriate, but from what you say, she meant no harm. You’re doing the right thing by declining her offer of showing you the photos. Can you forgive her as well?

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Last Dance February 23, 2016 at 1:48 am

I think part of the problem was that Family Friend took the picture in a moment when OP was feeling extremely vulnerable.
Funeral pictures may be appropriate in some cases, as the Dame and comments pointed out, but the photographer needs to be tactful. I don’t think Family Friend was: it sounds like she was bitten by the “investigative journalisy bug” and honestly, who would want to keep being confronted by the image of one’s most intense grieving moment, immortalized for posterity?

Family Friend might not have been rude in general spirit of her actions, but the execution definitely was and I think that should matter.

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NostalgicGal February 23, 2016 at 2:29 am

DH and I had different family traditions about the funeral and photographs. In his they take pictures of the deceased in state, with the flowers. Not of the mourners. I went to meet his parents after the proposal, and his mother brought out all the photo albums, and we got to the ‘funeral album’. First picture she started in on who it was and I covered the picture with my hand and carefully explained about my family never took pictures after someone was gone. What about the arrangements? Yes we did take a few of those, but destroyed the pictures if they had the deceased. She put aside a large and full album and we went to the next one. When both of his parents passed, someone gave him a copy of ‘the picture’ but put it in an envelope because of me. They’re both still sealed in the envelopes.

In my family we would take pictures of the flowers, but always had someone to put a elbow or some way block the deceased. If we had a picture with the departed in it the picture was destroyed (and/or the negative) or deleted. We would go through pictures everyone had and look for ones of them still alive and gather them for a small scrapbook to remember them by. Never the mourners.

I think it was crass for the person to have taken pictures of those in mourning. Respecting someone… I think it was the 1970’s… a reporter was covering an accident. A grandfather, about 60, had accidentally backed over his toddler granddaughter. They had put her body on the kitchen table and covered it. He was sitting at the table, hands and arms at each end of the little one, almost touching, and with head bowed, grieved. The reporter said the light coming in the window lit him up, making his white hair and beard glow… he knew it was a Pulitzer candidate shot. He raised his camera, then lowered it and quietly left. He left the man alone in his sorrow. The reporter said he did not regret not shooting… OP and brother should have been left alone.

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Sarah February 23, 2016 at 5:46 am

I rarely comment here but had to break my silence for this. When I was 18 a close friend killed herself. Her mother found her body and killed herself two days later. At 18 we could barely cope with the magnitude of what had happened- I was so grief stricken I don’t have any memories of the six months after this occurred. However I do remember the funeral- because a professional photographer was there. When I was feeling like I wanted to die too I had this man snapping photos of me. When my friends and I were crying so hard we couldn’t breath that man was taking photos of us. I was furious – it felt like we were stripped bare and I wish the photographer had not been there. i later found that the mother and daughter (my friend) were originally from a different country and this was the custom there, but it just made everything so much worse.

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PJ February 23, 2016 at 10:19 am

@Sarah–
I’m so sorry. What a heartbreaking story.

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Just4Kicks February 23, 2016 at 7:49 pm

@Sarah: So sorry you had to go through that, my deepest sympathy to you.

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UKHelen February 23, 2016 at 10:38 am

Some years ago, DH and I took flowers to his father’s grave in the churchyard of a little English village (a rare event as we live far away). We were both feeling emotional, and what we really didn’t need was the creepy/clueless teenager with a video camera who was obviously looking for something to use it on and circled us, filming for what seemed like forever. I was on the verge of telling said teenager where to stick his camera, but that would’ve spoilt the mood even more…

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chipmunky February 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

There were no photos taken at my BIL’s funeral, thank goodness, but DH did put together two slide shows of photos compiled from baby albums, BIL’s social media pages, and his computer, set to music, and playing on tables across the room from the casket.

At Grandma’s memorial service, there were no photos taken during the service (she was a direct cremation with us having the memorial at a later date). However, my DH got the responsibility of “carrying Grandma” out of the chapel of the nursing home and to Aunt and Uncle’s car. DH had met her in person once before (when I took him to meet her for a few days), and I didn’t have any photos of them together (him 6’3″, her 4’7″, he got on bended knee for her to hug him, and I wished I’d snapped that image up). So, I quick pulled out my phone, and took a picture of DH holding grandma’s box (which she picked out herself well in advance) before we went to the car.

Aunt, Uncle, and other close relatives and freinds think that photo is the best thing ever, as we all knew Grandma- a wonderful, polite, and caring woman, with a wicked sense of humor who would have loved the idea of being carried out of the home for the last time in the arms of a “handsome young fella” (her words to describe DH) 60 years her junior 😀

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AthenaC February 23, 2016 at 3:13 pm

I don’t think there’s anything inherently good or bad about photographs like this. They could be either:

– A cleansing emotional memento that takes you back to when you felt the immediacy of your grandmother’s life; or
– A painful reminder that you would rather not live through again.

It’s all a matter of personal preference and there really wasn’t any way for the friend to know how the OP would see it until afterward. The bottom line is that in the moment, those moments are either captured or lost, and I think the friend was right to err on the side of capturing them.

Tell your friend that while you appreciate the thought (even if you don’t!), you simply do not want to see the pictures, and that is that.

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K February 24, 2016 at 10:09 am

“there really wasn’t any way for the friend to know how the OP would see it until afterward”

Seriously, in what universe do you take a photograph of someone breaking down in tears of grief *without asking them* and think that is ok? It is not a matter of personal preference. It’s one of common decency and respect. Those were the OP’s strong emotions of grief, not that woman’s – it was not her place to decide whether they needed capturing or not.

The presumption is breath-taking.

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AthenaC February 24, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Seriously, in what universe could you get someone’s attention and permission without ruining the moment?

As I said, these moments are captured or they are lost. If you interrupt them even to ask permission they are already lost.

I think it’s clear from many other comments that there are plenty of people who would have appreciated photos like this, myself included. I stand by my statement that it’s better to err on the side of taking pictures.

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Cat February 24, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Perhaps you could ask afterwards and, if the person objects, delete the photo as a gesture of respect for his/her feelings.
I would never take a photo of someone without obtaining permission first though. Everyone has a right to privacy, especially in emotional situations.

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Devin February 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm

I think funeral or memorial service photography is fairly common. When my Uncle passed away a close friend, who was a photographer, took pictures at the grave side service. It was a full military burial, and some of those pictures were to be shared with the men he served with who couldn’t be there. The pictures of the flag being presented to my Aunt were beautiful and were used in a collage as a memorial to my Uncle. The pictures of the luncheon hosted afterwards were also wonderful, as my whole extended family was together to celebrate his life. When my Grandmother passed, we had a small visitation and then an even smaller ash spreading service. A friend of my mother’s, also a professional photographer, came out to take pictures of the ash spreading at my mother’s request. We spread her ashes on their farm in the same location were we had previously spread my grandfather’s ashes. Since there is no grave stone to visit, the pictures are great reminders of that day when my grandparents finally got to spend eternity together.

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Kirsten February 23, 2016 at 5:01 pm

I find the idea of photographing a funeral very odd. I can’t imagine a time when I would want to look at photos of the celebrant, the flowers, the coffin, the mourners, the grave or the deceased. I see funerals as a time to remember the deceased and mourn their loss, not make memories for the photo album. I remember some of the flowers at my grandad’s funeral, because the florist had done them as a double six domino. I don’t remember the flowers from any of the other funerals I have attended, and I’m fine with that. I remember the people who have died and that’s enough.

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Heather February 23, 2016 at 7:43 pm

Many comments here have been about photographing the funeral and/or the deceased. One could debate this forever. But the OP’s issue was with someone photographing her and her brother in their own private moment and expression of grief. I can’t imagine that anyone would think that this would be anything less than intrusive.

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Noodle February 23, 2016 at 10:29 pm

My aunt took it a step above photography and made a video of my grandmother’s funeral, mostly because her kids (my cousins) were performing the music. My mother had always had a strained relationship with my grandmother and had been told by the rest of the family that she was not needed at the funeral, so imagine our shock when a videotape came in the mail. My mother was incredibly hurt to begin with but she watched it anyway and realized that what the family swore was going to be just a simple memorial service was anything but. The tape ended up in the trash but that was mostly because the intent was most likely to hurt my mother even further. That was my first encounter with anything photo-related at a funeral.

A lot of it has to do with the family/individual, though. Both of my parents are gone now and are both interred together at a national cemetery. The only pictures I took were of my father’s flower arrangements at his funeral two years prior to my mother dying. Then the cemetery staff themselves took and sent pictures of the columbarium cover both times to show what it looked like when they got done with the inscription. My uncle, however, took a photo of himself holding my dad’s urn and emailed it to his friends saying that he was the last brother standing. I realize now that it was his way of grieving but personally pictures of urns and caskets (closed or otherwise) are going a bit far for me.

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Becca February 24, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Your poor mother, what a dreadful thing for her family to do to her, I have a feeling that it wasn’t just her mother she had a strained relationship with 🙁 It breaks my heart when people use grief to further spite others, that’s a whole other level of nasty.

I can understand a picture with a siblings urn but that statement, ouch.

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K February 24, 2016 at 10:06 am

Family friend takes pics of family crying without their permission.

No, this is not ok.

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Angela February 24, 2016 at 12:32 pm

I am very much opposed to photos at funerals. I find it tacky, distasteful, invasive, cruel and rude. There has been a trend of people taking photos of the deceased, in their caskets, and this just makes me angry! I have only been to three funerals in my entire life, because they are a bit too much for me to handle. The three that I have been to have been for very close family members – grand mother and my uncle who had adopted my mother. There was some horrid behavior on the part of extended family members, but thankfully we kept people from taking photos.

I find it so baffling that people find it appropriate to take photos of the deceased and post them on social media. This is cruel. I want to remember my family members as they lived, not propped up in a casket.

In short, I do not think its ok to take photos at funerals – not of the deceased and not of people at their most vulnerable as they mourn. The OP mentioned a military funeral, and I can understand taking select photos of the flag bearers etc. if that is the wishes of the family, and ONLY if that is the wishes of the family. Other than that, please don’t.

Funerals bring out some odd behavior in people, and you might just get told very rudely to leave or stop if you pulled out your camera.

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Just4Kicks February 24, 2016 at 6:50 pm

May I just say that I found the term “father in love” just absolutely beautiful. 🙂

I was engaged in my early 20’s to a young man who as our relationship progressed, got very controlling, and downright emotionally abusive.
I knew I had to end it, I also knew the emotional abuse would progress into physical.
However, his parents loved me and I them.
I honestly have no idea how their son turned out to be such an insecure bastard.
I stayed in the engagement much longer than I should have….because I dreaded losing his folks.
Unless there was a LOT going on in their home that they hid from me, they seemed like wonderful people.

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Denise March 9, 2016 at 10:38 pm

I very much agree here. When my younger brother passed away four years ago, at the age of 23, I was able to be a pallbearer. My sister and her husband, me and my husband, and our remaining brother all helped to carry our little brother to his final rest. I noticed someone taking pictures while we were moving the casket. I have a flash drive with all the photos on it, though I admit that I haven’t been able to look yet. Someday I will, and I am grateful that they were taken so that I can keep a part of the last thing I did for my brother.

However, I understand if you feel differently OP. These things are so deeply personal. I’m sorry for your loss, and hope you find a way to let your friend know that you are not interested.

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Kelly March 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

I recently lost my husband of 26 years while he was on active duty (also 26 years). Before the funeral began I was told that Public Affairs Office was there and would like permission to take photos, which I agreed to. I was also asked if there was anything I did not want photographed. I was fine with whatever they wanted to do, and they assured me they would not be intrusive at all, to either our family our sons, or any of the other guests. Due to circumstances, it was a closed casket. Walking into the Division Chapel was such a striking scene. His flag draped casket, all the flowers were red and white roses arrangements, there was what seemed like a life sized (lol) photo, and his dress uniform hanging alongside. It was genuinly beautiful. The PAO office is not there to take pictures to share with anybody, but to preserve the Division history. They also captured fantastic photos of the funeral detail to include the 3 volleys, and even of the law enforcement and random people along the roadside that stopped and exited vehicles to salute him as we passed. Once at the Veterans Cemetery they photographed the funeral detail as they removed him from the coach, the bugler, and the volleys. I don’t know if there are pictures as they were folding and presenting flags to my and our children as I have not seen any as of yet. Also, the vault company designed a fantastic graphic that was the size of the lid that depicted a waving flag, had his name, branch, division and something else that escapes memory. They (the vault company) eventually even sent me several printouts of it, and one that was also lifesized. As a sidenote, the interior of the liner was just as special. We were able to put our handprints on the sides. They were invisible at first but out of nowhere they each began to show up. It was an amazingly beautiful touch.
In my experience, having the pictures (i ended up with 4 different photo disks) has been great comfort. I know they will not share pictures, so the only the people I want to share them with will be the only people to see them.
Having said all that, I work for a funeral home. It isn’t unusual to have people taking pictures of their relatives (meaning the deceaced). As a rule, an employee will never take photos (like cell phone pics) of a loved one in a vulnerable state, such as during intake or preparations unless there is something that seems not quite right and pictures could possibly be needed at a later date..and never would they be taken with a cell phone, only with an actual camera belonging to the funeral home, and the camera generally is never removed from the prep room.

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Michelle April 10, 2016 at 3:55 pm

I think it would be easy enough to get out of this one. Just say something like, “Thanks, but don’t send me the photos right now. I am sure they are beautiful but I don’t think I can bear to look at pictures of the funeral yet. I felt a lot of grief that day and it’s not something I’m sure I’ll ever be able to look at.” Then say no more about it.

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