Friday, March 18, 2011

Shooting my dad's grave


What it is...
Duvernay, QC, November 2010

This photo - of my late father's footstone - isn't the easiest image to share, but I've been sitting on it since I first took it, wondering when I'd feel "right" in posting it here. I don't think I'll ever feel absolutely comfortable doing so, mind you, but I've learned that you can't always wait until everything aligns before you move forward. Sometimes, you just have to get up and move, even if every excuse on the planet is screaming in your ears to keep waiting.

More broadly, I'm not entirely sure members of my extended family would agree that sharing this is "right", either. But I've also learned since losing him that following my own voice matters now more than ever. And if that means this, then so be it.

We use the word "late" to describe those who are no longer with us. I'm not entirely sure why, and when I was a kid it always threw me off to hear the term. I remember thinking my Uncle Harry wasn't late, he was gone. It struck me as needlessly euphemistic and bothersome to conjure up words that tried to soften the blow, but only ended up muddying my ability to understand the vagaries of life and death.

When I write, I use simple language. I can out-vocabulary the most ardent dictionary-reader, but I choose to keep it stark and focused because, let's face it, everyone resents a know-it-all. I hate tangents and I have little patience for those who insist on taking me on them. So when it's my turn to tell the story, the straight line serves me best. Terms like "late" and "dearly departed" don't ease the process for me. They annoy me to no end, forcing me to watch others come up with ways to make sure I'm not offended or upset in some way.

I appreciate the sentiment. But the truth is my father died, and life has changed immensely since then. I'm okay with looking back and calling it what it is. And when I look at this stark-as-stark-can-be moment, I'm ripped right back to the moment on a brilliant November morning when I took it. Standing over his grave, I wondered what he'd think of his son taking a picture like this.

I heard his voice cheerfully ribbing me for "wasting film". I smiled, tripped the shutter and headed back to the car.

Your turn: Inappropriate photography. Please discuss.

15 comments:

Steve Gravano said...

Photography is all about communication and memories. To me, a photo of the footstone at your dad's grave is the very essence of the intertwined relationship between communication and memories. It shows love. It communicates that feeling of emptiness that was once filled by your relationship with your dad.
Everyone looks at photos differently. Many said that Eddie Adams iconic image of South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Laon executing Viet Cong Ngyen Van Lem during the Tet Offensive in 1968 was horrific, and should have never been published. It gave us a front row seat to war, you viewed it and understood that it was this war that was horrific, not the photo. Adams' ability to photograph things that many can't look at, made a big impact on the world. Many photojournalists, and even more photographs have that power. George W. Bush knew that when he banned the photographs of flag drapped coffins returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
So I believe we visit a cemetery and photograph a footstone for the same reason, we miss our loved one, it helps us to feel closer to someone gone, and it gives a a new memory. And there's nothing inappropriate about communicating that.Thanks for sharing this with us.
(http://watchingshadowsonthewall.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/iconic-image-eddie-adams-vietnam-photo/)

tiff said...

Even those of us who specialize in big words and tangents can appreciate the simple truth. :) Things do change when someone we love dies, it may take a lifetime to come to grips with those changes.

My verification word for this comment is 'grace,' which I find oddly appropriate for this post.

lissa said...

Your dad admired so much about you, Carmi, not the least of which were your skills with words and with the camera lens. He proudly showed your work on his wall. Would he think this photo was untoward? Probably not. He'd probably be humbled by your desire to take, and then share it, and I believe he's smiling and shaking his head, thinking how you continue to push boundaries and venture forth where others do not dare to tread. I never thought of taking my camera to the cemetery but I think I might just do so, this summer. The drama or the simplicity are achievable in places we never thought of before.

And I believe your dad would be proud that you are giving others that inspiration to go beyond what is "normal" (I hate that word) and bring even death to life.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

'Inappropriate photography' is whatever makes one feel uncomfortable or brings up memories that are sensitive... Death can be inappropriate for many.. I know my inlaws were notorious for making it clear how they felt about funerals,wakes, anything tied to death/dying.. Even the word cancer made them uneasy.. Death, disease are all part of the cycle of living, I think u will agree to that... I don't have a problem discussing death.. I've talked about my husband's as well as others I have lost w/out a problem.. I know some who were surprised that I did not act like the 'typical' widow.. One gal, was shocked that I wasn't crying and carrying on... Believe me, I cried, but why is it one has to display it in front of everyone? Also, I had to be strong cuz, I had 3 others to thinks about... One can't be rational if they are suppose to act like the 'crying widow'...

Kalei's Best Friend said...

Had to add this: could late in reference to death be applied because late means 'no longer there or not on time?' if one is late to an appointment means they didn't show up at the designated time expected.

Mike Wood said...

Appropriate for who? Your father wouldn't mind his son is remembering him in the way you do, and you don't mind. How others react to the way you choose to continue to express your love for your father is up to them to decide. Not you.

Artists - be they photographers, painters, or wordsmiths, do things for themselves first, Carmi. He is your father, it is your grief and memories. And your film to waste. :)

Karen S. said...

A very peaceful silent truth lies before our eyes, and his story there tells a good part of it,although leaving out his being a son as well. Who determines what is inappropriate? The they we often should avoid? We will never please everyone, (isn't that over said) but if we live/move/act/sing/dance/shoot photos!!! through our heart/mind and what we know inside our soul is correct/right/worthy then absolutely SO BE IT! I too have snapped my dad's resting place, and shared his winter/birthday decorations and such and mailed it to his brother in Maine and sister in Michigan who can't just swing by and see him. Thanks Carmi for sharing something close to your heart.

Titanium said...

I think your father, of all people, would appreciate that you are who you are. And you are a family man, journalist, photographer… and a loving son. You’ve shared a powerful piece of your history with us here and with great grace and utmost dignity.

Your simple, direct, poignant words pack a mighty punch, Carmi. One of the things I greatly admire about your writing is that you use your intellect and your words for Good and not for ill. You could easily use satire, veiled sarcasm, witty jabs and stinging repartee to whittle others down- instead, you generously give thoughtful, deeply insightful words that warm and build and add value.

Your words are a gift and the way that you choose to use them is an honor to both yourself and your family. Thank you for sharing this photograph and the accompanying words.

Jelly said...

I have never lost anyone close to me. I have been blessed so far to still have all those closest to me and whom I love the most in my life - but I know loss is inevitable and I try my hardest not to entertain the idea in the slightest because it is one of the things I fear most. On the day of the earthquake/tsunami, I was forced to entertain the idea wether I liked it or not because my partner, my best friend and my soul mate was in Japan and for a harrowing few hours (while in the hospital for appendicitis nonetheless... confronted/surrounded by the obvious fragility of life in a whole other way) I didn't know where or how he was - and indeed for a few panic-stricken moments - I wondered if he was still alive.
I don't know first-hand, your experience of losing your father, but what I can relate to is how much you must have cherished and loved him. I am sure everyone of your readers will have their own experience of your image. For me, it is a sad, but honest reminder to cherish our loved ones (while they are here and even when they are gone) and live every moment. It moved me, and there is nothing inappropriate about that.

photowannabe said...

Carmi, I really can't add a single thing to what the others have commented. They said exactly what I would say to you and to myself too.
Death is hard and it is intimate.
I believe your Father is so proud of you, and would like this picture.
Thank you for sharing your soul with us.

Catherine said...

"inappropriate photography" is certainly an issue in Christchurch at the moment - my daughter for instance is OK with taking photos of damaged buildings but not when they are people's houses. A curious line perhaps, although understandable, because after all many people may be just as sensitive about photos of their ruined businesses as their ruined houses.
I was a little suprised at one journalist's objection to photos of dead bodies being recovered - not because it wasn't objectionable, but because she was a journalist, and if it hadn't been her colleagues involved, she would have probably been right in there taking the photos.

Alexia said...

So many wise comments - and I don't really have anything to add, Carmi, except to say that I think it is your choice to post this picture, and whether anyone else approves or doesn't is not what is important.

On My Soapbox said...

I think taking headstone photos honors the deceased. Every time we look at a headstone photo of a relative, it brings back memories.

sister AE said...

I think your photo is a lovely tribute. My dad took (or maybe received from family) grave markers for some of our ancestors, buried somewhere near New York, but I don't know exactly where. I'm thankful I have the photos someone took and tucked away in our family photo albums.

kcinnova said...

I took a photograph of my grandfather's stone as a remembrance of him. That may colour my opinion, but I think this photograph of your father's stone is beautiful.

I am dealing with the whole process of grieving in advance, as my mother's cancer diagnosis is redefined.