“The Landscape of Lament” is a project in which Tom McGahan embarked after the passing of his father as a way to record the process of grief and preserve feelings and emotions.
I have the same name as my father, “but he’s not named after me’ he would say, in his thick County Tyrone, Northern Irish accent. After a brief illness on the 21st October 2017 my Father gently passed away. In the immediate aftermath of his death I embarked on this series of images to try in some way to record the process of grief and preserve feelings and emotions that arose through the images
My father spent his later years in the home where he was born in North of Ireland. It is a place that is steeped in tradition which seem to be highly polarised due to the division between the two main communities. It was almost a given that my father would have the traditional Irish wake. Dad was brought home a laid out with the casket opened and for two days, friends, relatives, and clergy came to pay their respects, sit down drink gallons of tea and tell stories. It was a very social, and seeing long lost relatives and many new faces that would have been part of my father’s life. Even in the midst of the grief and exhaustion, it felt a very natural process, it brings death right up close, and in this it seems to diminish the ultimate fear of death and dying.
In Irish tradition when the body was taken from the house, Keeners would sing a lament over the body, this tradition died out in the mid 20th Century. Grief is so often suppressed in our Western culture, in our striving for happiness does death and the sadness that follow encroach on our own sense of mortality so much that it has to be pushed to one side “Our grief now is too contained. We rely on taking anti-depressants. We go to a grief counsellor, but these people are in a way, a substitute for letting it all out, having a good scream, coming from the feet up, a good cry, a good purging.”
Different cultures have their own ways of dealing with death. In not too distant Tanzania, the burial traditions of the Nyakyusa people initially focus on wailing but then include feasts. They also require that participants dance and flirt at the funeral, confronting death with an affirmation of life.
The process of grieving is said to come in five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, these stages never come in order, sometimes in reverse and sometimes all at once, but also within these are the moments of fond memories, and deep love that seems to become stronger, and takes on a deep seat within us.
These images where recorded during the first year after my Fathers passing using a large format camera. The process was both arduous and cathartic, wanting to bring it up close almost like at ‘the wake’, to expose both the landscape that I found myself in. Words themselves cannot express the emotions that arise from grief. This collection of Landscapes is my Keen to my father.
Tom McGahan is an UK based photographer whose work explores the nature of reality and the perception of places and our emotional relationship with them. McGahan’s personal projects are based on our perception of places, objects, the passing of time, and our relationship with the land. His images aim to engage the viewers by challenging them to contemplate and reflect on their own sense of reality.
The featured series got the photographer the Feature Shoot Emerging Photographer 2019 award and was exhibited at Aperture Gallery, in New York. To see more of his work, visit Tom’s Cherrydeck profile or his website, here.
For more inspiring nature works, have a look at the Iceland series by our member Lesley Brügger. 🍒