Assignment 3 – unexpected opportunity

An unexpected – but very sad – twist of fate created an opportunity for Assignment 3 which i knew had potential to be powerful, but challenging to do.

My partner’s friend passed away recently and a memorial service was planned for her by her husband.  Due to the very unusual but tender way in which her body was cared for after the death, the story made international news as far away as Russia and America:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/09/heartbroken-husband-slept-next-dead-wife-six-nights-family-gave/

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/09/british-man-helped-to-accept-his-wifes-death-by-six-day-vigil?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

I respectfully offered by services as the photographer for the occasion, recognising that would be treading a delicate line between a sensitive celebration of life on one hand and crassly insensitive imposition with a camera on the other.  Whilst providing – hopefully – a respectful record of the memorial, it would be a delicate matter to capture the essence of such an emotional occasion for an academic assignment.  There would be many grieving family members and friends present.

I committed to do this for assignment 3 in preference to my earlier ideas.  The reasons being:

  1. The brief asks me to acquaint myself with an unfamiliar group and tell their story.  While I knew of the deceased I had only once met her and her husband very briefly.  Over the course of the day I hoped to get to know all of them better and tell their unique story with empathy but in an engaging way
  2. There was undoubtedly a great story here – heightened by the sometimes cynical or heartfelt viewpoints that had, by now, been circulating in some of the newspapers and in social media
  3. Carrying the responsibility for photographing the memorial event in a sensitive way with such media visibility was frankly, frightening!  I felt sure it would allow me to grow as a photographer if I took the plunge
  4. My various OCA tutors have always encouraged me to take a risk.  This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get it right.  I could never go back and reshoot any of the images.
My objectives in planning the shoot were as follows:
  1. To capture the day with authenticity, sensitivity and gain the trust of those present.  This was no time to be a ‘paparazzi’
  2. To seek to understand how the attendees felt.  In practice this was a highly moving mix of raw grief and a celebration of life
  3. To shoot enough to have a wide selection from which to edit into the final assignment submission.  But not so many as to appear crass and annoying.  I intended to demonstrate the selection techniques suggested by my tutor in Assignment 2 as well as <*******basics book reference********>>>>>
Technical Approach:
  • The venue was a light, airy marquee, which I was very pleased about as I ruled-out any use of flash as being too intrusive.
  • I selected fast f2.8 zoom lenses, 24-70 and 70-200 and a full-frame body to allow me to work quickly in varying lighting conditions.  Lens changes would therefore be kept to a minimum to help be to remain unobtrusive
  • I identified some key areas in advance  that i wanted to focus on if I were to ‘tell the story’ of those present.  These were: the environment, the deceased, the sense of mourning, the celebration of life.
The next post will present the images and selection process following the shoot.
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