Fujifilm X-Pro1, Samyang 12mm f/5.6, 1/80th sec, ISO-3200.
It was early in August 2016 when I heard the sad news of Gwen’s passing, her fight with cancer finally over and for her, peace at last. She was an exceptional woman I had known since I was in my early 20’s, a wife, mother, foster-mother, friend and a wonderful example of genuine Christian love married to a good dose of northern common sense! Gwen was a person one could always look up to – though her nature was such that I dare say she would be embarrassed at the thought and would probably bat such a notion off with with her customary retort of “Oh give over!” I had been a frequent visitor and guest at Gwen’s home in those years before my move away from Manchester. I was close friends with her children in those days and had cause it various points in more recent times to meet up with her and her husband Geoff and chat – usually at Criccieth in north Wales, a place close to all our hearts and in fact it was here where I had last spoken with her almost a year to the day of her death.
Anyway it was with some surprise that I was then invited by Gwen’s family to photograph her memorial service in Manchester later in August. I was certainly a little unsure about how this would be received. I have photographed many events in many places including my own church and as an aspiring professional photographer I positively look forward to capturing those lovely shots of the blushing bride walking down the aisle all lovely and radiant. But this was different. This was going to be Gwen’s last, formal farewell and however much the feelings of celebration for her life – and there was much to celebrate – feelings would also be very mixed, joy tinged with sadness and pain. I was reassured to some extent by the fact that this was a ‘memorial service’ not a funeral; there would be no casket, I’m not sure I could have done this had there been. Nonetheless, emotions would I was sure be running high and from experience I know grieving people can act in all manner of ways and may not take that kindly to their displays of grief being recorded by me.
In the event the day went well. The service actually opened with a notice about my presence and role and a reassuring plea from the vicar for people not to thump me! I think I managed to capture the spirit and tone of the event quite well. It was nice to be back at my old church, seeing people many of whom I had not spoken to in nearly 20-years in some cases and in capturing both the joy and the sorrow on display. I used two camera bodies – the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-M1 – and 3 lenses, these being the XF 60mm f/2, the XF 35mm f/1.4 and the Samyang 12mm for some wide shots of the church, looking down the centre aisle – you can see examples of these above and also in the gallery on the right of this page. The 60mm was employed exclusively in the church, it’s focal length and wide aperture being sufficient in the available light to capture some lovely candid images. In the following reception after the service I reverted to the lovely ‘documentary’ style images offered by the 35mm f/1.4. Both cameras were used in fully manual operation with ISO ranging from 400-1600. Files were jpeg format captured in Velvia or Pro-Neg H and converted to either monochrome or my favoured very muted colouring during edit.
In all then a satisfying day if also a sad one. The joy lay in re-acquainting myself with people not seen for far too long and also in knowing that my record of the occasion will bring some happiness to Gwen’s family and others, I dare say, when the pain of her loss has maybe eased a little…