Today, in an effort to escape the 100º heat in Freiburg we drove up to Schluchsee, a beautiful lake in the Schwarzwald. What I did not expect was the Pfarrkirche St. Nikolaus. From the outside it appears a fairly traditional looking church, with a large wooden structure. The first hint of something different is the sculpture out front, “Kinderreigen.” It is four children holding hands going around a mitre and staff. The sanctuary itself is a gorgeous work of modern sacred art.
Now while I love modern architecture and like a lot of modern art and I have seen some of the most amazing modern sacred art rarely have I ever seen it work in a church or worship space. Usually it is too brutal and chilling, rather than inviting and affirming as I believe a place of worship should be. This church was very different. So far as I could tell almost all (if not all?) the work was done by Helmut Lutz, a native Freiburger, who did der Kreuzweg, the “Stations of the Cross.” I was only able to capture a few of them with anything like the power and energy of the originals. He clearly also did the altar pieces and even the chairs for the ministers.
While there I also lit a candle for Mack.
It was a beautiful, quiet and reflective space, made all the more meaningful due to the unique Kruezweg. If we had a car longer I would go back again.
A candle for Mack.
13. Mary lays Jesus in the tomb.
12. Jesus dies on the cross.
11. Jesus nailed to the cross.
December 14th was the Worldwide Candle Lighting commemorating children who have died. Since there was not one within close proximity of our location in central PA my wife decided to organize an event on campus. It also happened to coincide with the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy; a student of mine shared a few words and read the names of all those whose lives were taken. Since I am in a few of the shots you can tell that I did not take most of these images. My good friend and the father of our son’s best friend took them. Thank you JC3.
Below is a portion of what I shared that evening. In the two short weeks that have elapsed since that night all too many have also left us. We remember each and every one.
When the tragedy of loss of life comes we feel powerless, overcome and overwhelmed. But we still have choices that we can make. And we have all made one, important choice tonight. We have gathered together in love to remember those who have left us too soon. It makes us sad, yes, but let us also find joy in remembering the joy that they brought into our lives. To do any less would be to allow death the final victory. Instead we allow their light to shine in our lives always, not just tonight, but forever. Zichronu livracha. May their memories be for a blessing.
Lam 3:19 The thought of my affliction [is bitter]!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
We give thanks for having shared in these lives, we pray that we may be good stewards of their memories, and we ask for blessing and peace, comfort and mercy.
May light perpetual shine upon them.
A year ago my friend Pat, a real photographer, posted this piece on his blog reflecting on taking pictures at our son’s funeral. Coincidentally at Christmas time I had read an article by a woman who had done just such a thing and how much it had meant to the grieving family. So I asked Pat if he would be willing to do this for us. We have still not seen the final images, but we are so very grateful for this incredible gift. With his permission I am sharing some of the post here, but please go to his blog to read the whole thing.
As a professional photographer I decided that the only thing I could offer was to make large prints for them to display at the viewing. I was wrong. What happened next is truly remarkable.
I made the offer and hoped he would allow me to do this for them. A small thing for me, but something I thought would help. He replied and said he was thinking about doing just that, and it would be a huge help to them. You see he is a avid photographer and is always talking shop with me as I do jobs for the school. He is also a bigger Apple geek than I am so you can see where this is heading. We became friends very quickly. After he sent me the images to blow up, I received a text message from him that I didn’t think twice about. It simply read “Call me.” I thought he had some instructions for me on sizes or something like that.
He was in grief like I never heard before. The next thing he said to me stopped me in my tracks. “Pat, I have a favor to ask of you.” “Sure”, I said. “Anything I can do to help.” “I talked it over with my wife, and we would like you to photograph the viewing and funeral for us.” I swear my heart stopped. I doubt what I said next was coherent or barely even audible. I think I said yes and mumbled something else.
I have photographed some very sad stories in my life, and I have shot through more than my share of tears. This, however, was different. I have never been asked to be on the inside of such a deeply personal story. He gave me every out possible to back out of doing this for him. He didn’t want me to feel obligated or uncomfortable. I sent him a message telling him I needed to give it some serious thought, that as I have gotten older I have become more and more emotional, and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I needed to sleep on it. However, I didn’t. The next hour or so my mind was on fire. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of it. How could I do this? How could I not do this? I have grandchildren the age of his son. I didn’t know what to do. I spoke with a few personal friends I could share this with and straightened out my thoughts.
When I had spoken with him, he guided me to a blog about a woman who had shot a funeral for a friend and said I should look at it. I did. What I learned was she had the exact same thoughts as I did, except hers was from the perspective of actually having done it. It calmed me a great deal and made me realize what was important here. Here is a man and a family that trusted my skills as a photographer, my friendship and sensitivity to enter their lives at the most intimate and deeply personal time. I said yes. I am honored and humbled that they asked me. Over those next two days, I shot images I probably shouldn’t have, and I didn’t shoot things I probably should have. I think that is one of the reasons why they asked me to do this. I tried to be as hidden and respectful as possible. This is time I needed to be invisible.
These are pictures I took of myself and my son last year. 362 days later, on New Year’s Eve 2012, our beautiful son died unexpectedly from a blood infection. Now all we have left are the pictures. Fortunately I took thousands. At some point they will be a blessing to me (as they are to my wife even now) but at the moment they practically mock me.
Still, I am so glad that I have these images and, more importantly the memories. On this day it was just the two of us in the studio. He played with his LEGOs while I got the lighting and technology figure out (it had been 25 years since I had been in a studio) and then we took a few pictures of ourselves. I cherish every minute we had together. You can see more of these pictures on my flickr account.
John William McKenzie Brady – Best Boy Ever
I have not posted on the PhotoBlog for the last few weeks. Our son Mack died unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve from a blood infection. Today is his 9th birthday. He will be missed, but I wanted to remember him in some of the photos that I have taken.
His impish smile.
Lurking everywhere, always present.
His 8th Birthday
He was a wall!
The Great Defenders
Rain was no obstacle