Photographing grieving fathers

A guest blog by Raising Arizona Kids staff photographer Dan Friedman

For our June issue, I photographed four dads who had lost children for Mary Ann Bashaw’s story, “Fathers Reflect on Grief.” I wasn’t sure how the four dads would react to me tracking them down by email and telephone to make arrangements to take their pictures. Maybe they wouldn’t even want their pictures taken.

Support from the MISS Foundation has helped these dads cope with their grief. They understand that sharing their stories can be beneficial to others who are struggling with loss — or know someone who is.

With each of the dads, the grief was palpable. These photo sessions were different from any others I have done for the magazine, where the subjects often want the publicity an article with photos will bring them.

Being the photographer for Raising Arizona Kids involves traveling around the Valley taking pictures of people I am meeting for the first time, intruding on their lives for a few minutes and then leaving with an image that hopefully makes sense to our readers and helps me keep my job.

I chat with people to put them at ease while I set up my lights or look around their house for a suitable spot to take a picture. But this was different. I wondered what I would say to the four guys whose children died. Telling them I’m sorry about their loss seemed ill-suited to the situation. Who was I to tell them I was sorry? I was just there to take a picture that would appeal to our readers.

I settled on telling them I appreciated their taking the time to share their stories with our readers, who would be surely benefit. This seemed the most accurate and genuine.

The first dad I photographed was Jimmy Carrauthers. He is also a photographer, so it was easy to talk about photography with him while I was setting up lights. While I was checking my exposure, his phone rang so I have this photo of him holding the photo of his late stepson, Edwin, while he is talking on the phone. Sometimes the emotional moments I hope to capture are interrupted with mundane moments.

Jacob Christen Blain’s son Leo died when he was just eight days old. Jacob preferred to meet at his workplace, which meant the setting was not as personal a space in which to photograph him. I had to find a way to remove the setting. A large stucco wall worked out the best. Ironically, the stark background tells the story because Leo died so young and there aren’t dozens of photos or personal effects to include in the photograph.

Two of the houses I went to for the story were full of photographs. Photos are so ubiquitous in our culture, whether printed or electronic, that our memories are tied up in them. But for Jimmy, his tattoo was obviously the best way to tell his story. The illustration of his stepson is now a permanent part of his body.

Mark Eide had a giant photo of his family on vacation in Hawaii above his mantle. It includes his son Zack and daughter Katie, who died in a car accident in 2009. There many smaller photos around the house and on the memorial Facebook pages for Katie and Zack. The urns with their ashes were on a table nearby but I could hardly bring myself to look at, much less photograph, them.

Jason Freiwald had a life-size photo of his son Braden as well as dozens of other photos around the house but this one was his favorite. It made it easier for me since I needed to have some variety in my pictures to illustrate the story. If I were in Jason’s place could I look at a life-size photo of my dead child? I was amazed how composed and comfortable all four dads were to work with. I don’t know how they did it. But that is what I was photographing, four dads being composed and comfortable about sharing their loss. — Dan Friedman

The June story about grieving fathers was third in a four-part series we are running this year called “Finding Purpose in Grief.” Following are links to all three stories; the fourthwill be published in November. — Karen

The MISS Foundation Offers a Light at the End of Life’s Darkest Tunnel

When Birth and Death Merge

“Fathers Reflect on Grief”

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