At multiple times in my life I have assisted with the arrangement of a family members funeral. These funerals would take place in the same, small town, family run funeral home my family had been using for years. Similar to a lot of other American funeral homes, this particular establishment proudly showcased the interior stylings of a mid 20th century waiting room, traced with ornamentation from a Victorian past. Even at a young age I was moved, perplexed, even fixated on the aesthetics and traditions associated with funerals.
In 2018 I began researching the history of western funerary culture as it developed throughout the 19th century. During this time Americans saw a rise of the middle class and with this came an increased importance on status symbols in life and in death. Many of our modern-day funerary practices are last vestiges of these Victorian traditions which championed lavish expenditures on decorative ornamentation, public processions, and most importantly, relied on the familiar warmth of a domestic setting such as a parlor or entertaining room before internment.
Drawing from the experiences with the funeral arrangements of my family, alongside the research culled from the histories of modern-day funerary practices, I build photographs that explore cultural attitudes surrounding death. Specifically, I focus on the viewing areas, lounges, and social spaces that comprise the majority of traditional funeral homes. The suggested documentary nature of these photographs is subverted with the use of my own staging and construction in order to arrive at a scene that hovers between fact and fiction. The photographs showcase a kind of theatre; a perceived elegance and oscillating decoration with deep connections to community and tradition. I question the efficacy of these interiors as spaces designed to assist our processing of loss, especially during a moment in history where the immense weight of collective loss seems incomprehensible.
Yet, I am inexplicably drawn to the orchestrated beauty of these environments – the absence. In this solitude, I am also making pictures designed for meditation and projection of one’s thoughts. The photographs are designed to be questioned. Why do we need/expect such elaborately staged environments to project our grief onto, and, what does this say about our ability to confront death?