commercial photographer london and essex tom mcgahan

Landscape of Lament

I have the same name as my father, “but he’s not named after me” he would say, in his thick County Tyrone 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 and is highly polarized due to the division between the two main communities of Nationalists and Unionists. He was the youngest of a family of six boys and one girl, most of whom emigrated to Canada, New Zealand and England.
It was almost a given that my father would have the traditional Irish wake. Dad was brought home to the humble farmhouse where he was born 76 years ago, his body 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 gathering, with long lost relatives and many new faces that would have been part of my father’s life, there was a steady flow of those who came to pay their respects to the man who they called, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin and friend. Even in the whirlwind of events and 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.” i
“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.” ii

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.
In the following weeks I felt the need to ‘Do Something’ some climb mountains and do epic bike rides, I have one friend who rode 300 miles in 24hrs for a local cancer charity, in the aftermath of death there appears to be a reconnecting with life.
These images where recorded during the first year after my Fathers passing using a large format camera, and only one exposure was made at each of the locations. 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 and thoughts feelings and emotions that arose during that first year.
This collection of images are my Keen to my father.

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i Mourning the loss of the keening tradition in Ireland by Richard Fitzpatrick
ii What ancient cultures teach us about grief, mourning and continuity of life. By Daniel Wojcik and Robert Dobler.
© Copyright 2022- Tom McGahan Photography
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