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November 5, 2005


A while back, I mentioned to a few people that a stray had had a litter in my back yard.

Among the kittens she gave birth to was an apparently-stillborn one, never released from its sac, quite dead, stuck to the concrete, and crawling with ants by the time I found it. I had commented to these people that as soon as I scraped it off the patio, I wished I had photographed it first.

One person apparently took this as some sort of morbid humor, was incredibly offended, and stopped talking to me.

But I honestly wished—and still do—that I had taken a photograph of that kitten before I disposed of its body. It would have been a beautiful image: the contrast of the slick, shiny sac against the dull concrete; the contrast of the organic forms against the regimented linearity of the patio; the ants doing their thing, that "circle of life" thing circling.

I don't feel like a bad person for considering the beauty of something dead stuck to my concrete. There's beauty all around us, in nearly everything, and if you can't see it... then that's your loss, not mine.

And I know I'm not alone in this. Countless photographers have entire portfolios built around death. Back at my high school, the art teachers collectively had a "Wall of Death" on the art office wall. If they found something interesting that was dead, they stuck it in a Ziplock bag (o bastion of sanitation!) and hung it on the wall. Flipping through an issue of Aperture, I found a whole spread that was photos of partially decomposed corpses. They were at once disturbing and fascinating and dignified. Apparently the correct response should have been to fling the magazine across the room and write an indignant letter.

I miss his company sometimes, but you've got to pick your battles and apparently this was an important one to him. I suppose it's a good thing I didn't know him when my grandfather died, as we all spent more time laughing prior to his funeral than we did crying. We were all too caught up in remembering Grandpa the way he would have wanted to been remembered to tear through boxes of Kleenex out of immense fits of crying. I'm sure that would have offended the hell out of him too.

Posted by Colin at November 5, 2005 9:40 PM

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