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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

When a KFC Family Meal is Worth More than a Photograph...apparently.




Is this what our images have been relegated to?
Yes, its an interesting title. But I have to be honest - its an interesting story, one which, as photographer, I am saddened to relate. Here is how it goes.

While we were on a shoot a couple of weeks ago, I took an incidental but rather beautiful portrait of someone who was there at the location. It was beautifully lit with studio lighting, captured in a wonderful moment and taken with 30 years of experience. Yes, it was quite lovely, even if I say so myself. Little were we to know then that it would be the last photograph taken of this person. Yes, within a couple of weeks, this person unexpectedly passed away. When this happened, we naturally got a call from the grieving family. "It is a beautiful photograph", we were told. "Its how we want to remember (this person)".  A moment like this can make a photographer feel like they have done something that has lasting and positive results. 

My wife and I have gifted our photography many times. We have often done this as an act of gratitude, or perhaps as an act of compassion. However, in this case there were reasons why this was not possible.  But there was the opportunity to reduce our price, which we did. When the woman with whom I was speaking asked me the price of a print, I reduced it significantly from our usual price and explained to her that I had done such, with compassion and sympathy. The woman then paused with apprehension, told me that she would consult with her sister about the purchase, and get back to me. Now, her reduced price for the print was being halved due to the fact that her sister was being asked to contribute. This brought the print price for each to below that of a family meal at KFC!

Knowing that the funeral was being held in the next few days, I contacted the family again, asking if she wanted to me to rush the print over so that it would be there for the actual service. I was kindly told that the portrait was not wanted. Suddenly, a photograph that allegedly meant so much became something that meant nothing at all. Why? Because it would cost her about the same as a meal at KFC. The last photograph taken of the person she loved so much, an image that honoured, dignified and beautified this person, suddenly became completely unwanted....unless it was either free, or perhaps significantly less than the price of a family meal at KFC. 

This being the case, I have to admit to feeling glad that I did not offer the print as a gift of sympathy. Gifts are hopefully appreciated. While I certainly can empathise with their loss, I find it difficult to comprehend their perspective on the worth of this beautiful and final portrait of someone they apparently loved so dearly, especially when it had become so affordable. I am left wondering what she thought the price would be? Would I just hand it over as if it required nothing to achieve, no costs and no time on my part to arrange? What would you pay for the final photograph taken - particularly one as beautiful as this - of someone you loved so much? Where will your family meal at KFC be in a year? Ten? Twenty? The portrait of your loved one would still have shone from its frame during all those years.

In a way I feel sorry for this family, whose complete lack of appreciation has cost them this memory of their lost loved one. And then, on the other hand, I am saddened and insulted on  behalf of the person who has died. 
While my heart goes out to the family as a result of their loss, all I can say to them with regard to this precious photograph, I suppose, is....'Enjoy your chicken'.

-Shelton Muller

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The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

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