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Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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26 Nov 2020 7:48AM   Views : 435 Unique : 278

Some of the best documentary photography has been done by people working within their own family or friendship groups. The have documented the illness, decline and death of parents, partners and friends, or the travails and recovery of people close to them battling with mental and physical illness.

Iím not one of them: too inhibited by the conventions, too worried about giving offence, sometimes too close. And always the feeling that to document is to intrude, especially with people who are reticent about being the centre of any sort of attention.

Some years ago, I made 6-weekly visits to an aunt who had become bedridden, and though fortunate enough to be able to pay for private care in her own home, spent several years in the process of dying Ė something that she had hoped she would do swiftly, possibly walking on Exmoor. First her body failed her, and then her mind. I took a few pictures that were not of her, including a non-portrait of the view from the window of her lounge, which was also her bedroom for several years.

But I never took pictures showing her decline directly, and sometimes this troubles me: is it some sort of moral or photographic failing on my part?

I think, possibly, not. What I can do with a camera is Ė despite appearances Ė pretty non-intrusive. The models I photograph are celebrating their existence by working as models, and are able to present themselves at their very best. They collude with me in portraying their beauty.

What does a family documentary series need, I wonder? Certainly, an ability to use a camera without much thought of the technical, but thatís true of most areas of photography. And often, the sort of rather confrontational image that is honest about decline and decay needs only the most basic of settings: Program mode will often do. Maybe on-camera flash is OK as well, as it is for happy family snaps.

Some sort of understanding with the subject, definitely sits at the top of the list. You canít make these pictures without a deep engagement, without some sort of empathy, the willingness to let you own heart break. But there must also be steel, to recognise and capture the telling moment. Itís like photographing your child when they are hurt and cryingÖ There is a risk that what you need to make the picture is also what destroys the relationship that underpins the pictureÖ

Yet some people manage itÖ I would welcome insights, stories and suggestions. And, befitting my failures with this area, there are no images today.

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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
26 Nov 2020 8:23AM
As an incidental - I may nto respond very rapidly today: the idea for the blog came from a sudden commitment to family care.
PaulCox Avatar
26 Nov 2020 10:43AM
I know what you mean, it is difficult to take a photo of someone you care deeply about when you know they will not be with us for long.
In January and February, we were caring for my wifeís sister while she was undergoing Chemotherapy and went out to several of here favourite places, and took some very good photos of us all. Then lockdown and in October we spent time with her again, only this time we knew that it was very near the end, and even though all the family were there, I was unable to take a photo of her, as I felt that I was intruding on her last very special days, and I am so glad that I didnít because those photos taken in Jan and Feb are the way I and my wife wish to remember her. So I think that one knows when it is right and when it is not right to take a photo of a very very special loved one. Paul
mistere Avatar
mistere Plus
10 38 8 England
26 Nov 2020 12:01PM
I think we all know when it's not right to take pictures of somebody. The people who take the pictures anyway are the ones with the moral failing.
Press photographers do it all the time. If it feels wrong or uncomfortable don't do it. Trust your own judgement, ask yourself who the pictures are for,
who will see them, what purpose will they serve. Being considerate, respecting someone's dignity and memory is not a failing.
We can always regret doing the wrong thing, even try to justify it. We shouldn't regret doing the right thing.
kaybee Avatar
kaybee 19 8.7k 29 Scotland
26 Nov 2020 12:17PM
I didn't "document" my parents decline but I did take pictures of them.
The only one which really means something to me was the last one of them together I ever took - on the last day they ever saw each other. My father had Parkinson's and dementia and was in a home but had been brought in to the hospital to see my mother after she was diagnosed with cancer.
It still triggers all kinds of memories going back through my life and can me to tears.
This is it
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
26 Nov 2020 12:30PM
I haven't documented decline of a family member though I have taken ad hoc images.
I made the decision to photograph my father last Christmas when we went out for a meal. He enjoyed the day out. I could have not bothered. I'm glad I did as I never had another chance.
GGAB Avatar
GGAB 7 31 1 United States
26 Nov 2020 1:24PM
I prefer to keep pictures of deceased family member and friends, when they were alive and vibrant, not in their decline.
This is how I prefer to remember them.
This is how I prefer to be remembered when it is my time.

When the lockdowns become depressing, remember the things that put a smile on your face.
From the States, Happy Thanksgiving!
chase Avatar
chase Plus
18 2.6k 684 England
26 Nov 2020 6:08PM
I love looking at old pictures of how things 'were', remembering the good times and steering away from the bad.
I remember how my Dad looked just before he passed away ( I was there), sadly it is an image imprinted on my mind. Would I have taken images of, I have things that remind me of him, happy and healthy.
Mum is currently in a nursing home with Covid and severe dementia, I really don't want images of her anywhere close to that, it would destroy my memories of her totally.
Great memories are precious things.
Lontano Avatar
Lontano 13 8 2 United Kingdom
26 Nov 2020 7:14PM
My mother lived with us for eight years until she reached the incredible age of 106. Her body aged but her mind was bright and active right up until the end. She used to say how lucky she was not to be in an old people's home. Taking photographs of her had to be a surreptitious affair. Whenever I pointed a camera at her she would immediately straighten, pose and produce a beaming smile. Great the first couple of times, but I didn't really want a host of images that were almost identical.
She had a walking frame on wheels and I would creep around after her, camera in hand, whenever she explored the garden or went up to the stables to see the horses. If she saw I had my camera then that was it...the pose and the smile took over.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
26 Nov 2020 9:04PM
The smile is always a part. But it matters that there are other parts.

And let's hear it for the people who have the ability to square the circle, and produce meaningful images of their loved ones through the worst of times. Those who have the closest relationships, or the most understanding relatives, or the magic... There's a Barry Thornton portrait of his dad that comes to mind.
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
28 Nov 2020 6:52PM
When to press the shutter, and when to vanish can be a fine dividing line.

Here's a few examples.An Asian taxi driver had been lured to a rough estate in Bury. He was dragged from his car, robbed, then his head run over by his own taxi. The Islamic funeral attracted a couple of thousand mourners to a large windswept and rainy playing field. The family wanted the media to be there. The picture of a 10 year old as pall bearerand when they opened the coffin are powerful. I think it ran over 6 pages with the body on the front cover. To me, you can either have honest news that shows the world how it is or substitute it with Google Streets.

The sailor in tears, who had over 30 years on from the Falklands plucked up the courage to go to a Remembrance service- taken on a 200mm on a crop sensor, I got a nod of approval, fired off a burst, then hugged him.

On Tuesday I photographed an unbelievably horrific car crash. No skid marks, whatever that infers Whilst waiting for the recovery truck, two tearful family members turned up. I made the decision not to photograph. I could have asked, but why intrude into grief that is so raw. I simply drifted into the shadows, and returned when they had gone.

Then, there's the motorway crash that ended up with the car upside down in a car park. The police were great, they asked me not to photograph with the body still in, but in that modern media savvy way, explained that I could, but then asked politely. I nipped for a coffee and sat on a picnic bench in the pouring rain sipping it as the undertakers cracked on, wiring my early pics. Frankly, the mangled car that a mother of 4 was killed in says it all.

Then, there's the image I took on my phone of my father fading away in a hospice with cancer. My hand, holding his, as he lay there peacefully drugged. I asked my mother who was present for consent. It's not my favourite picture of my Dad, but having recorded so much drama in other people's lives I felt it was right to record some of mine.

So, Mistere, we are not all heartless ghouls, and I've been at far too many horrible, tragic deaths this month. However, at the end of the day, it's an editor's decision as to what gets published. Often it's to inform or campaign.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
28 Nov 2020 7:29PM
Phil, I know you, and I know Dave. Both of you are kind and compassionate people, and you do different jobs.

For most of us, itís a difficult decision whether to shoot those moments. For you, itís part of work, and you have access and responsibilities most of us do not.

You also have a fine sense of responsibility to both the public and those who are unwillingly in the spotlight. The truth matters, and society is the better for having people who are willing to face and record it.

And is lucky when they do so with compassion, as you do.
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
28 Nov 2020 8:09PM
I still find it odd when forensics stroll away from a tent or cordon, and greet me with a cheery hello, and ask how I'm doing, and try to recall the last job we met on. Oh yes, it was the machete attack, where the man lost 4 fingers.... I see you are using a tripod, are you doing video tonight...
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
28 Nov 2020 9:48PM
Now, that's a job that really challenges, I suspect. Gallows humour won't be the half of it...
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
28 Nov 2020 10:09PM
On the job on Tuesday whilst standing on a sea of shattered parts, between the two halves of a Mercedes split in two, at probably nearly 100 MPH, me and the crash investigator were chatting about the usefulness of high ISO, light painting techniques, the integrity of digital for evidential purposes, if shadow/highlight changes are ethical.

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