The album can be viewed by clicking the above image. I decided to link it to a set outside of my blog as it has a much nicer presentation than a plain series of images within this blog.
I was driving back from the states when I got a phone call from my family saying my grandfather had passed away. My mother had asked her if I would accompany her to Poland for the funeral as my father could not go because of work constraints. I ended up getting back home with enough time to pack, squeeze in a few hours of sleep and head out to catch the flight the very next morning knowing full well that the responsibility to not only attend the funeral but photograph it for the family members that could not attend.
A few months prior to this my cousin had sent me an invitation to his wedding which was supposed to happen at the end of October, also in Poland. I began to dream about returning to a country which I had not seen in around 14 years with a familiarization of the culture and people but this time with a camera in my hand. The idea of being able to document life on the other side of the world but with a personal take and almost slight exclusiveness to it all really began to appeal to me.I got the feeling such a trip would change some perspectives I held on what I enjoy about photography and how I use it beyond my own personal projects and work. I've seen such travels affect friends for the better.
Needless to say the sudden death in the family and the new responsibility that came with the trip began to feel very daunting but a welcome challenge nonetheless.
I had of course never photographed a funeral before. In the past the idea of it seemed very strange to me. The perspective changed when I came across photographers who had done it in the past and their views on why they were in those cases hired to do so. It had often been to not only document a day that some people were not able to attend but to forever capture a series of memories or emotions, regardless of the fact that they tend to be of sadness on such occasions. To some it is one of the last memories they may have with that individual.
Having understood that certainly helped however trying to photograph the event proved to be a bit more difficult. It's a fine line to walk to be both subtle in one's actions as a photographer but still try to capture the mood, the atmosphere and the emotion in the process. It's also a bit of a toss up whether to document the day or try to delve deeper and tell a story. Often times I found I was very much the center of attention, even while still trying to be overly subtle and respectful of those attending the funeral. I also seemed to have earned myself a few distasteful looks, not so much for getting in anyone's way but more so based on the fact that I was taking pictures during a funeral. It is a very unusual experience to say the least.
On the technical side of things I ended up photographing most of it on a 35mm focal length. There are a few reasons for this. I did not want to capture just "portraits" of individuals within that setting. I wanted to be able to tell a story and a mood and that meant using a wider angle lens. Beyond that more often than not I was working in pretty cramped conditions, with less than ideal lighting, hence the fast lens. I would not dare use a flash in any of those situations as it would have just drawn attention and interfered with the actual event.
That being said, photographing people at 35mm is a little daunting at times. You want to fill the frame with your subject(s) and in the case of that particular focal length that means being in the action and getting in close. This isn't so much an issue when you're covering a wedding since they tend to have a lot more of a welcoming and positive atmosphere. A funeral on the other hand definitely created some hesitations within me not to step on peoples toes while still trying to get the shots I was looking for. It's a comfort level that takes some time to get to. It very much reminded me of trying to do street photography with a 35mm lens while still filling the frame. You have nothing to hide behind and you will get the attention of those in front of your camera.
In the end the whole event changed a lot of how I look at certain projects now. It has inspired me to pick up my camera and explore other unique perspectives I may have. I will be doing some travelling as soon as November to a much different place and I very much aim to weave a story from my trip.