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"I Want You to Take My Funeral Portrait"
Lens: S-M-C Takumar 35/2 Camera: Pentax K20D Photo Location: Kiryu, Japan ISO: 100 Shutter Speed: 1/180s Aperture: F5.6 
Posted By: Mike Cash, 12-26-2010, 05:13 AM

Pentax K20D
S-M-C Takumar 35/2

At our annual photo exhibition earlier this month one of the members, the gentleman in the photo, said to me, "I want you to take my funeral portrait." In Japan it is the custom at funerals to have a good-sized portrait of the deceased at the ceremony and for it to be carried along in the procession by a close family member. Afterward, a smaller print may be placed in the 仏壇 (butsudan), a Buddhist altar kept in the home and at which incense in burned, food/drink offerings are placed, and prayers offered up for the deceased of the family.

What frequently happens is that families get caught unprepared and upon the death of a loved one have to rush around trying to find a photo that can be sent out for a rapid run through photoshop and printing. Some few, though, apparently have the foresight to have their photo taken for just this purpose every few years. This man is 79 years old and I guess he figured it was about time to have a fresh one done. So the next day I brought my camera and simple lighting gear along to take a portrait for the specific purpose of being brought out when he dies. It's very sobering being asked to take such a portrait knowing full-well its intended purpose....looking through the viewfinder knowing you're taking what is meant to be the last expression he will be known and remembered by.
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12-26-2010, 07:13 AM   #2

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Fascinating tale! Especially coming from Australia, where talk of death and all things related is generally shunned, it's interesting to hear of a culture where these things are accepted and prepared for. I think it's a beautiful attitude and probably the most moving thing one could be asked to photograph.

Wonderful portrait that seems to say a lot about the man in front of the lens
12-26-2010, 08:18 AM   #3
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There are different forms of Buddhism. I prefer the form that is a way of living rather than a religion with hope for an afterlife. The subject you may find makes fascinating reading. That aside you were quite privileged.
12-26-2010, 08:32 AM   #4

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My brother was a photographer for one of those church directory photo mills and one time he was assigned to a small country church. Towards the end of the day, an older couple came for their shoot straight from the farm dressed in their everyday attire (dress and apron for her, bibs and flannel for him). As my brother chatted with them during the shoot, he asked them why they didn't dress up some like everyone else. The said that these were going to be their funeral pictures and they wanted their picture to match how everyone in town knew them.


12-26-2010, 09:07 AM   #5
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Very interesting tale Mike. I also very much like your other shots (in the Tamron thread) of the Japanese ladies.

It looks to me like there is a very definite slant to the shoulders (and a smaller one to the head) - unless that is a natural feature you may want to consider if he would want it straightening.
12-26-2010, 09:20 AM   #6
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Thanks for sharing this custom with us. It was really interesting. I agree with frogfish about the slant but can't tell if it is natural or not. Looks like it may throw everything off if you straighten it so I'm thinking it may be natural. You seem to have captured him very well though.
12-26-2010, 01:03 PM   #7
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Thanks, everyone. This is a crop from a photo of sufficient size to reveal that the slant is natural and the photo is actually straight. If I can sit up that straight at 79 (or even make it that far) I will consider myself doing quite well.

12-26-2010, 01:18 PM   #8
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Good shot Mike! I saw the slant, but if you say the photo is straight, the photo must be

Off topic: can't remember seeing you posting here, in this sub-board. Is that an omission on my side????
12-26-2010, 05:37 PM   #9
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I think it's great!! If he likes it the way it is, (and it appears natural) then I wouldn't sweat it. After all, that's the way he wants people to remember him, give him his wish. You did a good job of capturing his image. He's a pleasant looking old gentleman, and If I were he, that's the way I'd like to be remembered!!!!

Question: Is he a family member, an In-law possibly? He's the kind of guy that I'd like to know.

Last edited by jimH; 12-26-2010 at 05:57 PM.

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