Many times over the years I’ve shared my need to express myself through photography. I often do this to alleviate anxiety, but also to deal with feelings of grief.
Very often, I express this through still life photography. I’m not sure exactly what it is about this form of the medium that helps me to do this. It may be that I can control all of the aspects of a still life photo, whereas when you lose someone to death, you can feel very much out of control.
The lighting I use, for example, is something I control to create a darkness that swallows the subject and everything around it. That stands in stark contrast around, usually, beautiful flowers which represents life and fragility.
They Will Be Lost
My Great Uncle Frank passed away this past Easter Sunday. He was a prominent figure in my childhood growing up, and served more as a grandfather because he was the only extended family we had living here in Florida. My childhood was very rocky to put it mildly. We moved from New York to Florida in 1989 and lived with my Uncle Frank and his wife Nancy for a while until our moving truck found its way to our house.
Not long after we moved into our home, my parents divorced and set off a chain of instability that would plague my life into adulthood. However, the one constant was my Uncle Frank. My dad took my sister and I to visit once a week, something we continued after Dad’s death. Aunt Nancy would make us a great dinner. My mom was working two jobs, so a home cooked meal felt good. Being with my dads family felt good.
Fast forward more than 30 years, Aunt Nancy passed from Leukemia, and my Uncle had to move back to New York to live in the care of his children. I never saw him again. It is truly the end of an era for my family, and I have reached a point in my life that most reach farther down the line. That is the point when you can look at old family photos and almost everyone is dead.
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Now Kelsey and I are going to have a baby girl. She will never meet most of my family. Their memory exists only in my mind, and it occurs to me that if I don’t tell her who they were, then they will be lost to time when I am gone.
Final Thoughts on Still Life and Expelling Grief
The purpose of this quick life story was to convey to you what has been on my mind and heart, and what I was feeling when I took these photos. I’ve had a hard time expressing myself since news of his death, not even being able to cry as yet. Instead I used still life for expelling my grief.
It’s not easy to juggle the feelings of grief from death and the feelings of hope and excitement for a life soon beginning. That’s why photography means so much to me. The arts in general are so important for mental health. This one example, I think, shows that importance.
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Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.
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3 thoughts on “Still Life and Expelling Grief”
I’m really sorry to hear of your loss. Remember to take happiness from what you had and not to just focus on it not being there anymore. And remember to pass on those memories to your offspring. While they might never know those people in the same way you did, they will still take comfort in that sense of connection with their heritage.
Very sorry to hear of your loss. Photography can, indeed, be a creative way to express grief. In addition to the simultaneous solemnity and expressiveness of black & white, I noticed that all the photos you posted include flowers. I wasn’t sure if you did that consciously or not, but flowers work well when expressing grief because they convey that life is beautiful but brief. That plus the attention to shadows — all appropriately haunting.
In addition to your still life work, which is an artistic expression, do you have any photographs of your family members? If so, consider arranging them, or rearranging them, into a photo album that helps illustrate who they were, what they enjoyed and so on. I have a daughter who was born after many of my older relatives had passed on, and was too young to remember others when they died. But we have photo albums that show many of them during happy times, and my daughter gets a sense of who they were from those pictures.
The flowers were definitely symbolic but I wasn’t totally conscious of the decision at the time.
I do have a lot of albums and a scrapbook I made of my ancestry research so hopefully she will treasure that the way I have.