April 3, 2008

This is the End

Life Before Death, photographs by Walter Schels, interviews by Beate Lakotta

 Edelgard Clavey 67

Before her death Eldegard Clavey, 67, said

"Death is a test of one’s maturity. Everyone has got to get through it on their own. I want very much to die. I want to become part of that vast extraordinary light. But dying is hard work. Death is in control of the process, I cannot influence its course. All I can do is wait. I was given my life, I had to live it, and now I am giving it back"

In the Guardian Joanna Moorhead writes about German photographer who was terrified of death, but felt compelled to take these extraordinary series of portraits of people before and on the day they died.  She writes

Nothing, it is said, teaches us more about living than dying. But if so, isn't it odd how little we face up to death? And isn't it odd that modern societies, which appear so keen to find meaning in the business of living, push death to the periphery, minimizing our contact with it and sanitizing its impact?

A German photographer captures the dying

"What I was used to," says Schels, who has taken hundreds of portraits during his career, "was people who smiled for the camera. It's usually an automatic response. But these people never smiled. They were incredibly serious; and more than that, they weren't pretending anything any more. People are almost always pretending something, but these people had lost that need. I felt it enabled me as a photographer to get as close as it's possible to get to the core of a person; when you're facing the end, everything that's not real is stripped away. You're the most real you'll ever be, more real than you've ever been before"
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One thing you never get used to is the feel of a dead person - it's always shocking," she says. "It's like cement - that cold, that hard, and that heavy."....horrifying though photographing the bodies was, more shocking still for Schels and Lakotta was the sense of loneliness and isolation they discovered in their subjects during the before-death shoots. "Of course we got to know these people because we visited them in the hospices and we talked about our project, and they talked to us about their lives and about how they felt about dying," explains Lakotta. "And what we realised was how alone they almost always were. They had friends and relatives, but those friends and relatives were increasingly distant from them because they were refusing to engage with the reality of the situation. So they'd come in and visit, but they'd talk about how their loved one would soon be feeling better, or how they'd be home soon, or how they'd be back at work in no time. And the dying people were saying to us that this made them feel not only isolated, but also hurt. They felt they were unconnected to the people they most wanted to feel close to, because these people refused to acknowledge the fact that they were dying, and that the end was near."

That last bit about how lonely they dying, isolated, even hurt, because people they most wanted to feel close to, refused to acknowledge they were dying just pierced my heart.

Posted by Jill Fallon at April 3, 2008 11:24 PM | Permalink