Sunday, August 17, 2014

Exploring Grief Through Photography

One of the most interesting sessions I attended at the National Compassionate Friends conference in Chicago recently was “Exploring Grief Through Photography.” Co-presenters Litsa Williams and Eleanor Haley introduced attendees to the possibility of exploring the complicated emotions of grief through art and photography. Participants also explored the opportunity to continue bonds through photographing symbolic reminders and spaces that they associate with their deceased loved ones. In this particular session, they discussed the role photography plays in communicating after a loss, processing the complex emotions of grief, and honoring and remembering loved ones.

“No two loses are the same,” said Elizabeth. “No two grievers are the same. We all need to find the tools that work for us,” she added.

These two women love photography and are very accomplished at what they do. They are strong believers in art’s capacity to connect, heal and communicate. “We feel photography is one of the most accessible art forms us regular folks have to choose from,” said Litsa.

Why do we create?

1.      1. To help express our emotions

2.      2. It relieves stress and anxiety

3.     3. It gives us an opportunity to honor our loved one’s memory

4.     4. It changes the way we see the world

5.      5.It provides a time and space where we are present with our thoughts, emotions and loved one’s memory
The two ladies showed us pictures they have taken: like of shoes of the loved one who died or a bike photo leaning against a post with no person in the photo. Or for an old person who died: a picture of objects that remind us of his life. If a baby died before birth, the photographer can do a picture of mother holding a candle on a dark background. You can capture funerals or memorial services. You shouldn’t be judged (Why did you photograph that?) It means something to the photographer, that’s why!

Those who can’t express in words, can do so with photos. It is accessible to anyone; the end result can be literal or abstract; it can be done anytime, anywhere; and it is easily sharable.

Categorizing grief through photographic exercises:

1.      1.Choose 1 or 2 emotions you feel when thinking about death, grief, or a specific loss and express them photographically.

2.      2. Symbols remind us of a person that we have lost. It can be a literal symbol such as a grave marker or personal item or an abstract reminder like a rainy day or a sunset. When parting with important or sentimental objects or moving to a new home, photographs help us to hold on to memories while letting go of physical objects. You can photograph an environment where you would often see your loved one prior to their death or do a photo of a place where you feel your loved one’s absence the most. You can even find a photo from the past and take a picture of it in the same location that the original photo was taken.

3.      3. Hope and strength – the photo may be connected to loved one, or may just be symbols that make you feel your personal growth : strength, compassion, inner peace, health. Incorporate words, verses or quotes that resonate with you in a photo. You can also find or create these words in your environment and photograph them. Gratitude- every day we should find one thing we are grateful for.

The value and healing to be found in photography exists in the process of creation as much as it does in the final photograph. I hope the summary of this session gives you ideas to use from your own life and allows your individuality to shine through.

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