Funeral photographer Rachel Wallace
(Photo credit Louise Winter)
On Sunday 22nd November 2021, something magical happened.
As the sun rose, Natasha Bradshaw, the inspirational superintendent of Mortlake Crematorium opened the gates to Mortlake’s beautiful grounds, and a trickle of people started to arrive for a day that would be unlike anything that has ever been done before.
People carrying suitcases of changes of clothes arrived in Richmond from all across the south of England, ready to attend a series of staged funeral ceremonies. They were our extras, the mourners for seven fictional individuals whose funerals were taking place as part of the GFG’s Inspirational Funerals photoshoot.
The incredible amount of preparation that had gone into the day was evident, as the ceremonies began and lead funeral photographer Rachel Wallace of Farewell Photography and our indispensable second photographer Tracey Anderson started a long day’s work.
Funeral directors and celebrants stepped into their roles as if the funerals were real, hearses came and went, rapid costume changes meant black clad mourners reappeared wearing leopard-print outfits and bright coats, coffins were carried, flowers were placed, candles lit and blown out and lit again, beautiful orders of service were handed out and collected, music played, eulogies were read, people cried and laughed and danced and drank mugs of tea, children and dogs ran around and got under everyone’s feet, people watched via webcasts from afar – and everything was captured by the cameras.
The ceremonies ran like clockwork throughout the day, under the expert eye of event producer Debbie Malynn, finishing with the welcome words ‘It’s a wrap’ as the light faded and the last images were caught by the lenses. Rachel and Tracey gathered up their equipment, and Natasha and the lovely Mortlake staff tidied up the detritus of the day ready for the real funerals that would take place a few hours later – we didn’t get names, but thank you so much for clearing up after us!!
What was this all about, this extraordinary day of role play and expensive props? Why did we draw on the incredible generosity of all of the volunteers who gave up their day to be part of it?
It was because we want to show the world how beautiful and inspirational funerals can be, by creating – and then sharing – photographs that can be used by anyone.
The gallery of images from Sunday will be made available free of charge to anyone who wants them – for articles, websites, blog posts or social media, for brochures and literature, wherever and however these images are needed, they can be used.
We want to change the visual vocabulary about funerals so that everyone everywhere can see just how extraordinary and meaningful a funeral can be.
We know how important this is. Currently, stock photos of funerals all reinforce the narrative of sombre faced men in black carrying on their shoulders traditional (MDF) coffins dressed with coffin sprays. Just google images of funerals and you’ll see what we mean.
Without changing the visual lexicon, we won’t change the landscape of funerals. No matter how much we want people everywhere to think and talk about funerals, the general psyche is reluctant to do so until it’s absolutely necessary, and by then it’s too late, the social pressure is significant to conform with ‘what everyone else does’.
It’s time to change what people see, on as grand a scale as possible. Using pictures that give subconscious messages of ‘all of this is ok’.
This was our purpose in putting out a call for support in the Good Funeral Guild – and what an amazing response we had.
We want to thank everyone who participated, it couldn’t have happened without the phenomenal goodwill and generosity of everyone involved. You are all complete stars, and you have been part of something that will impact people you will never know or meet.
We need to say a particular thank you to the fabulous funeral directors and celebrants who made the funerals so real:
Firstly, the lovely Michael Tiney of Southall Funeral Service, whose immaculate cars were there at the crack of dawn for June’s ceremony and whose florist provided her flowers. Thanks to Becky Lee Wale, Daisy Chain Celebrant, who officiated as June’s celebrant. June’s beautiful coffin came from Somerset Willow.
Our second funeral for Alma was facilitated by the equally lovely Jo Williamson from Albany Funerals in Kent, with Angela Morgan officiating. The fabulous leopard print hearse was supplied by Green’s Carriage Masters (Jo generously covered the cost of the hire) and Alma’s coffin was created by Coffin Club North London.
The third funeral was for Sam, with more lovely funeral directors, Jacqui and Nick Taimtarha of White Rose Modern Funerals, Hannah Jackson McCamley (Hannah the Celebrant) leading the ceremony, and a beautiful woollen Natural Legacy coffin from Hainsworth Coffins.
The fourth funeral, for Maurice, had the awesome Lucy Coulbert from The Individual Funeral Company rocking up in her LandRover hearse and following car, and a stunning shroud provided by Yuli Somme from Bellacouche. Thanks also to David Holmes of Holmes and Family Funeral Directors for sourcing and bringing a beautiful hand drawn bier which Maurice’s shroud rested on for his outdoor ceremony. The celebrant for Maurice was the wonderful Rosalie Kuyvenhoven of Rituals Today.
Rosalie also co-ordinated the last three funerals for Noah, Ariella and May; in a completely ground-breaking part of the day, and with guidance from Natasha who has much experience of looking after baby and children’s funeral ceremonies, we photographed three of these to offer bereaved parents some beautiful sensitive imagery that could help them to begin to think about these most difficult of ceremonies.
We also owe thanks to Suzie White for supplying us with stunning orders of service for the ceremonies – and for also stepping in, alongside her husband, to play particularly difficult roles for the camera.
Last of all, thanks to Jane, Isabel and Liv, current GFG directors, and Louise Winter, former Editor of the GFG, for their part in creating this incredible day.
This was a collective, tremendously generous effort by a multitude of people – not just those named in this blog post, but all of the other friends and family of members of the Good Funeral Guild who came along and played a part in a day that will change the face of funerals.
When the photos appear, you will all see just how worthwhile it was.
Thank you everyone.