Bereavement Photography, continued

NF: Clearly you care, very much, what these families think of the images, and their reactions affect the work going forward. Yet you have ambition as a photographer; you must. How does this work fit into your larger life and aspirations as a photographer, and does it - can it - fit into larger aesthetic ambitions or career plans?

TH: I never had great aspirations or a need for really large recognition as a photographer, only to do good work that fed my creative needs and had some purpose for others -- until this work happened to me, that is. For instance, two years ago I found myself sitting in the Time-Life building reception area waiting to be called up to meet with LIFE magazine editors to show my bereavement photographs. I looked up at the framed historic magazine cover photographs gracing the walls around me and poking myself asked, "what are you doing here?" -- really rather confounded. It occurred to me that it was this body of work and my passion for it that brought me to this place. It belonged here, it deserved to be seen. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited and scared, but my ego was less apparent than my desire to tell these families' stories: that their babies mattered.

However, I do consider my aesthetic with regards to this work, and it has evolved over time. When photographing, I try to be in the moment with no expectations or any thinking ahead to the resulting photograph and how others might receive it. I strive to simply be open to what's unfolding. When editing images for presentation or publication, however, I do think of my intended audience but always keep the intention of the work and the families' trust close at hand. In terms of ambitions in photography, this is the kind of work in which I hope to be involved: personal, purposeful projects that engage me fully.

NF: What special issues surround the publication and exhibition of this work?

TH: To begin with, I don't assume the families are interested in being a part of anything beyond their participation in the photographing for them. I will later go back and get consent for each specific use. I speak to them about the value of sharing the work with other audiences who don't have access to it otherwise, to raise awareness and to help other grieving parents.

NF: So you go back for permission for each instance of publication?

TH: I have releases from parents who consented; that covers me legally, but I feel they deserve the right to refuse at any future time. Their feelings about this, like other things related to their baby's death are fluid and may change over time.

NF: And exhibition venues that other photographers would pursue are not viable for you?

TH: Well (laughs ruefully), I really made it difficult for the George Eastman House in negotiating terms of use. I'm honored to have 13 images in their collection now -- but in an attempt to ensure the work's integrity, I established some limitations and requested that if shown, a minimum of three images be exhibited or published together to keep them in context. I don't sell or exhibit through commercial galleries, though museum purchases and other types of exhibition and publication with the appropriate intent may be possible.

Next page: Art monograph or educational textbook?


All photographs copyright © Todd Hochberg