Someone commented on my previous post, asking good questions. Here’s what they asked:
What I’d like to know is how do you deal with camera noise at a funeral? What do you consider a respectful distance? And have you ever had issues with family at funeral, i.e. asking you to leave or not photograph? How do you deal with such a situation?
Each case is so different. Here are some thoughts…
In most cases, if I’m sent to a funeral, the family is expecting media coverage because it’s usually a big story in the community. The people who work for the funeral home are often good go-betweens for us, to find out what the family’s wishes are with regards to media. In most Mormon funerals, we will photograph the pallbearers carrying the casket from the church and then the graveside service.
Access runs the gamut from full access to none. When the family asks that we not be there, a judgment call has to be made. If it’s a big story with a lot of public interest (like the Trolley Square shooting), we will probably photograph from a long way off so that the family has their solitude. This is always a hard decision to make, but my presence has never caused any confrontation.
The thing to remember about confrontations is that if you get into one, no matter where you are, it’s too late to win. By the time someone is telling you to stop taking photographs, they’re usually not going to change their mind and you have find a way to get around them.
Respectful difference also varies. With a long lens, I don’t have to be close. For this funeral, the mourners gathered around the family, so we were closer than I would have liked. You just have to pay attention to the vibe you’re getting and minimize your impact on the family. I’ve been close and I’ve been far depending on how comfortable they are.
As for camera noise, a couple of things. I use a long lens (at least a 400mm) so that there’s a distance between me and the mourners. And I always set my camera to single shot. I don’t think the sound of the shutter is as distracting as the context.
For example, say a widow bursts into tears and all of a sudden you hear a camera start firing off 8 frames per second. That doesn’t seem right. It’s like a pack of wolves pouncing on a defenseless rabbit.
But if all through the service you’ve heard occasional single shots fired off, you won’t notice when a couple of single shots are taken during an emotional moment. How you conduct yourself, in every way, sends a message.
Most often, it’s the people around the family who are the most defensive. They’re looking out for their loved ones, and that’s commendable behavior. But we are there to tell a story of love and loss. I’ve never been there to exploit the situation.
When my brother-in-law died tragically five years ago, I brought my camera bag to the funeral. As they wheeled his flag-draped casket out of the church, my extended family broke down, faces covered with tears. I felt the pull of my camera but didn’t dare bring it out in the middle of such a sensitive moment.
Through tears, my wife said, “Trent, what are you doing? Get your camera out. We need you to document this moment.”
I put together a slideshow from Gary Jensen’s funeral. The audio track I edited from the service is very simple (you have to keep things simple when you’re working 17-hour days). From an hour of material, I only used a hymn and a quote from Jensen’s son Robert, recorded at the service.
There were a lot of great things said by the friends and family. My notes were riddled with stars, noting the quotes I wanted to use. But in editing, nothing was more powerful than Robert’s statement, which he made as he and his brother and sisters made tributes to their father. It’s better heard than written. When you hear his voice, you realize he’s speaking right from the heart.
For the record, here’s what he said:
“Whether it be through his belief in his faith, whether it be a mine rescue, whether it be just in the community, the Jaycees, the little league wrestling, the little league programs the he did for the kids, the programs he started that affected so many in the valley that I’m surprised by or just the words when you’re in the mine and you have a problem and he’s there to lend you a hand to help you, my father lived for the people and he died for the people, and he will be remembered by all of us as one who lived that principle that every man, regardless of who you are, every woman regardless of who you are, every child deserves to be respected, deserves to be loved, and deserves to be appreciated.
He died in tragedy but he’ll be remembered as a blessing to everyone of our lives. and I swear this, I believe it, and I look upon you guys and I see it. I thank you so much for the family for all the support you’ve done. And I say this in the name of my Savior, amen.”
Here’s the link to the multimedia: http://220.127.116.11/multimedia/gibbsfuneral/index.html
Down to Salina to photograph the funeral of Gary “Gibb” Jensen, who was killed trying to rescue the six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon coal mine. It was a touching service, and by the end I had a real feeling for who this man was: a prankster and a loving father who was serious about his job on a mine rescue team. Truly a great man.
When you photograph a funeral at an LDS chapel, the photographs are often limited to the outside moments at the end, when the family follows the pallbearers out. It’s too bad I don’t have a photograph of the chapel, which was filled (along with the overflow seating). The stand, where the podium is, was completely filled with flowers. It was a sea of yellow flowers. I was tempted to sneak in a camera for a photograph from the back of the hall. The journalist I was sitting next to kept throwing out S- and F-bombs in our conversation (inside a church). Even he thought that sneaking a photo would be insensitive, so I didn’t.
After the service we drove to the small town of Redmond, where Gibb was buried.
The photo above shows Hayley Jensen (daughter), Lola Jensen (wife), and Jayden Shelley (grandson) as the Sevier County dispatcher put out Gibb’s last call over the radio. I can’t tell you how emotional this moment was. Words fall short. Everyone was wiping their eyes as the dispatcher, calm as a rock, paged Gibb for the last time. So sad.
Family members stuck around for a few minutes after it was over, then cleared out.
After everyone had left, Gibb’s son Robert came back to the grave and sat down. I make a quick photograph with one camera and reached for my short lens to get a better view. Before I could get the camera up, Robbie stood up, put his hand to his father’s casket, and walked off.
I had just witnessed a son’s final goodbye to his father. I don’t know what else to say about that… In fact, I’m speechless…