Why funeral photos are so important

Charles Cowling


Posted by Rachel Wallace


I first thought about taking pictures at funerals when a close friend died 11 years ago.

I stood there watching everyone in their smart bright clothes (no one wanted to wear black – too dark, too final), taking in the beautiful flowers, the sentiments and eulogies expressed by friends and family, the glorious spring day with such vibrant colours reminding us of the life continuing outside the cemetery and her husband and sons – in a dream world that day – oblivious to what was going on around them.

And I thought how, maybe, it would be good for them to be able to see the people who had turned out that day, from near and far, to show their love and support and pay their last respects. How perhaps there would be small but important details that they would have missed, such as people’s accessories – special colours the deceased would have loved, the dressing of the church, the smiles on their faces at some of the memories, the respect and reverence from the funeral directors, the special moments and the love reflected all around by the ceremony itself and those attending it.

I knew that by taking photographs on such an occasion would mean breaking an enormous taboo, but I also knew in my heart, that it could be such a great comfort to the bereaved by choosing to have these precious last moments recorded that it would be worth doing.

And so it has proved. Those who have chosen to have my presence at their loved ones’ departure ceremony (and there are many reasons for their doing so) have been so delighted with the pictures that I have chosen and placed in their memory book that they have smiled, and hugged me and I have felt I have brought a little light into their dark times. The photographs will also enable them to talk more easily to others about their loss as it is far simpler to start and continue a conversation around a book of photographs. In this way the taboo of talking about death is able to be broken down a little more.



It isn’t easy. I am met with shock, and revulsion at times when I mention what I do but once I have explained the caring and respectful way in which I work, and how my work aids the bereaved, I have seen people change their mind. Most people think it an excellent idea and a comment I often hear is that they wish there had been someone like me around for their husband, parent, child’s commemorative service but that they felt too embarrassed to ask, or uncertain who to ask, or wanted someone with experience and couldn’t easily find them.

After a BBC radio interview with Anne Diamond I had several people call me to say how pleased they were to hear of the service I offer and was immediately booked by a wonderful gentleman for his wife’s funeral.



It has been hard convincing those in the funeral industry of the demand for such a service, and I think it sad that there are still few out there who know it can be arranged, but I feel sure that before too long it will be a common thing on the list of requests offered when planning a funeral.

I feel proud and honoured to be present at such personal occasions, and I know that the books I produce are of great comfort to people. And that, ultimately, is the service I am offering at a time of great need.



Find Rachel herewww.racheljwallace.com 

Contact Rachel hererachel@markjwallace.com

14 thoughts on “Why funeral photos are so important

  1. Charles Cowling

    I think it’s important to take pictures at funerals as it is a memory I’d like to cherish. I come from an Asian background and have had pictures taken at almost every funeral in the family . Just last week I attended a funeral of a member of my husbands family ( British in the UK), and took some pictures for memory . I later on received a text of the family saying inappropriate that was. I apologised over and over again as it was never my intention to offend anyone . And I thought I had failed to understand the cultural difference .

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Jules Millar

    I went to a funeral yesterday where people were not ashamed to photograph the beautiful wicker coffin. I saw your work on the BBC dead good job programme and could not agree more that you are so trapped in the moment of grief you simply do not take in all the attendees and their feelings as well. I applaud your work.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Denise Jones

    I always like the non-posed ones, they just seem more natural and poignant somehow

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    Hello, this is a different Shirley (from The Modern Mourner). I think photography is essential at services, and I hope blog posts like this will help to dispel any sense of “tastelessness”. There were photos taken at my mother’s service, and I am so thankful. I was in a daze that day, and without those photos I would have missed out on the opportunity to see all the love, support and grace that surrounded me that day. I was too blinded by grief to see for myself.

    Thanks so much to Rachel for this post.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    Very interesting comments there, Shirley, especially from an American. I’ve always thought that you guys are much less uptight about photographing your dead.

    Apart from her quality as a photographer, the thing that drew me to Rachel is her discretion. No candid shots of people in grief. I couldn’t agree with you more, generally. Though there will be funerals that want the grief recorded, I guess…

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling

    I think it’s ok to take some pictures at a funeral if it can be done inconspicuously. Pictures of the church, flowers, and at the cemetery with guests – but at a distance. No posed pictures. I think it is rude and ill-mannered to take pictures of the bereaved at an emotional time and I still feel it is taboo to take pictures of the deceased.

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling

    Hear, hear, Jeanne! That’s the point. Why should the shutters shut down at such a life event? What sort of remembrancing or commemoration is that?

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Jeanne Rathbone

    I encourage people to take photos, at least, when we are outside on the terrace as there is bound to be someone with a phone camera. Sometimes they find it easier to photograph the flowers rather than the people. I say to them we record all the other significant events in our lives and surely this is important too!

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Rachel, sounds like a good service. Photographic memorabilia ties in with this comment by someone talking about how the funeral event itself shapes the memory and assists coping:
    “Often it’s the ritual to which our memories return and the ritual on which they rely to explain to us what happened that day when our loved one was lost, rewriting the experience into a particular story that only partially reflects the truth of what happened as we know memory does—hopefully in a way that makes it easier to bear’.

    Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling

    Rachel, this is such a good idea, as you say, once the initial idea is broached and the taboo is broken. I’ve been involved in funerals with members of the Chinese and Japanese communities, and found that photographing seems to came a little to easier to those families, but I don’t know whether this was just particular to them.

    However, a number of funerals I’ve taken have been videoed for later distribution, or in a couple of cases linked direct through a mobile phone so that family members far away can listen in as it happens. As ever, once people get over a knee-jerk reaction and think about something for its own intrinsic value, they can find their own uncensored way through.

    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Pat McNally

    Very nice work!
    I have found that many people want photos but feel a bit sheepish about taking them. Certainly it becomes impossible for a family to really engage in a funeral and take all the photos they’ll appreciate having later. Thank you for providing this wonderful service!

    Charles Cowling

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