Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When mortality is the photo subject

A member of a photography group at the online business networking site LinkedIn recently asked other group members for suggestions on how to best shoot pictures of -- and I'm not making this up -- caskets.

Yes, there is a demand for this -- in advertisements, primarily. Maybe even in funeral home promotional literature. The "why" of posing the question is irrelevant. The reason I'm posting this is because a fellow member of the group, in his response to the question, contributed a remarkable anecdote that he insists is true. He gave me permission to post the story here, saying it happened some 20 years ago. I'll fudge on the names and places so as not to embarrass any party to this anecdote who might still be around -- and happen to stumble upon this.

Here's the story, copied from an email from the fellow who provided it at LinkedIn:

Empty caskets are reasonably easy to deal with. I have a friend (we’ll call him Bubba) who took an assignment to shoot a series of portraits of a young father IN a casket. Apparently the family had never had any images made of him while he was alive.

The family asked for photos of the two children and the wife with the deceased. ‘Bubba’ took his brand-new Hasselblad and a three-head portable studio strobe setup to the funeral home. He photographed Papa & Mama; Papa, Mama & kids; Papa & kids; Papa & each child; then the family left him to try to get a 'life-like portrait' of Papa.

The funeral home thoughtfully loaned Bubba a stepladder so he could get the right angle for the portrait. To make a long story short, while leaning to get the exact angle, Bubba lost his balance and fell into the box with Papa. As he fell, Bubba held the new Hasselblad over his head to protect it, but as his forehead connected with Papa’s nose, gravity smacked the camera into the back of Bubba's head, knocking him semi-conscious (and dented the new camera).

Talk about stuck! Poor Bubba’s hands were behind his head, holding the camera that had bonked him in the back of the head, his elbows on either side of Papa’s head. In addition, his forehead made poor Papa’s nose parallel to his cheekbone, his nose touching Papa’s Adam’s Apple, and he had to somehow get out of that box. Preferably without calling attention to his predicament.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, when he finally worked his way out (without tipping the whole casket and contents onto the floor), Bubba went to a men's room to wipe off the makeup that had smeared off Papa's face onto his forehead. Then he went to quietly find an employee of the funeral home to unload his story.

He apologized for breaking Papa's nose and offered to pay to unflatten the nose, if necessary, but begged the employee not to tell Mama. The mortician said, 'No problem,' and went to Papa, grabbed his nose between his thumb and forefinger and snapped it back into shape. My friend asked if that hurt anything. 'Nope, he's dead,' was the answer. They re-applied Papa's facial makeup, and nobody was the wiser.

Bubba never took another photo job involving a dead person, although he sold more than $2,000 in prints and enlargements. Apparently the family bought prints from virtually every image. The story has never been told in print before this, as far as I know.

No comments:

Post a Comment