The project that uses photos to understand loss

Photographer Simon Bray explains why he started Loved and Lost, an online project for people to tell the stories behind photos of loved ones who have died

I lost my dad to prostate cancer in 2009. I felt a need to respond somehow, to try and understand my own grief, but also to help others understand theirs. As a photographer, my starting point was family photographs, so I began by re-staging an image of my mum and dad taken a few days after they got engaged. Mum and I then sat and spoke about her experience of losing dad. It was fascinating to see how it varied from mine, to hear her memories and give her a chance to celebrate who he was and what he meant to her.

Photography is a simple but powerful way to open up a conversation about loss, something that many people – understandably – find it very hard to engage with. I feel hugely privileged that others allow me into their stories, to take their photographs and open up to me about some of the most painful times in their lives.

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Often when someone passes away, people will ask you how you are, how you’re coping. But a lot of the time, all you want to do is tell everyone about the person who isn’t around any more: how special they were, that you miss them and that you wish you could share those seemingly insignificant moments in life with them. Loved and Lost gives people a chance to remember happier times and enjoy the memories that they treasure so dearly.

It’s hard to escape the sadness within each story of loss, but I’m more interested in the people and their relationships: what did they mean to one another? How did they relate and share life?

The burden of grief can hold us captive if we let it. I hope Loved and Lost may go some way to relieve the hurt and the stigma of death and act as a public declaration that death has lost its sting.

Loved and Lost: Maike’s story

“The original photograph was taken on some steps down from the prom in Penzance. I don’t quite remember when it was taken, but I think it was just after I had moved to England from Cologne. It was a different country, a new relationship: a big adventure. Paul and I had a habit of going down to the sea most evenings.

It’s me and Paul, sitting on the steps together, and taking a selfie, and I chose that picture because we both look so stupidly happy in it, and we really were. Wind-swept, a bit love-swept.

Maike and Paul in Penzance, Cornwall

Paul was very funny, and it was the sense of humour that brought us very close quite quickly. He was very gentle, and very sensitive towards people, although he always said he was such a misanthrope and that he didn’t like people much, and maybe he didn’t. But the ones that he did like, he really got.

Sometimes the sadness just comes. It’s very much like the waves: you watch them and they’re fine, and then one will come and just hit you and soak you, and that’s the one that hurts. But I think that revisiting memories will become a comforting thing rather than a sad thing. I know there will be light at the end of the tunnel. I think that’s how life is.”

Featured image: Simon Bray



This article is featured in issue 92 of Positive News magazine. Subscribe now to get the magazine delivered to your door each quarter.