Bereavement Photography, continued

NF: When James Nachtwey's book Inferno (Phaidon Press, 2000) came out, it sparked some debate. It's a master photographer's book -- and a gorgeous book. There was some discussion about the possibility of suffering packaged as art. Others argued that this kind of presentation is the most effective way to engage the viewer and therefore educate. As a photographer with sensitive material, I'm wondering how you feel about this - the book as an object - and if you feel that meaning can shift in a presentation.

TH: What I must hold to is my vision. If it's coming from the right place both for me and the family, then I can't miss the mark, you know what I mean? And while I do want mine to be a beautiful book, I don't want it to be just that. I want the reproductions to be fine and yet there will be text, as with the exhibitions, about why the pictures were made and what they represent experientially.

You know, the art book editors I've talked with see this in a much different way than the grief education or documentary publishers do. The art book publishers might say Just let the images speak for themselves, just plates with the titles listed in the back. Then there's the other extreme, where educational publishers want to use the images as illustration for a larger academic text. I see that there has to be a balance, and I'm not too sure where that is right now. It's a conundrum.

I don't want to speak about Nachtwey's book specifically, but rather about how many photographers have made strong images about the death and suffering associated with war, violence and poverty, but how some of them seem to have a darkness about them, a coldness, or an alienation. And I've been told that my photographs -- although like you said, inextricably linked to death -- are not that way. While challenging, they are warm and about emotional and spiritual connection. While I wouldn't want an over-the-top lavish presentation, I certainly want the images reproduced well and respectfully shown, aiming to support meaning not shift it.

Next page: "I choose to be emotionally involved, the pictures are more meaningful for it -- but it also costs me"


All photographs copyright © Todd Hochberg