A Look at India’s Death Photographers

Hiring a photographer for a special occasion is a common occurrence when it comes to weddings, graduation, or the birth of a baby, but in Varanasi, India you can also add on funerals and getting a portrait of your dearly departed. On the Ganges River, hundreds of bodies are ceremonially burned each day by family members. Sometimes part of this ritual is also hiring a photographer. This video by Seeker Stories shows a photographer who supports his family by photographing dead loved ones and making prints for his clients:

Natte Jha is only 24 years old and has been photographing bodies on the Ganges for six years. It’s not a creepy fascination with death but an integral part of the rituals surrounding the cremation. Working with two broken cameras, Jha uses one to take the photos and the other to show his photos to the client on the working LCD screen. Once the client is satisfied, he makes prints for varying prices. Rather than waiting until he can afford an expensive camera, he works with what he has and is able to make a living from it. (Via PetaPixel)

showing clients images

On a good day Jha would get ten customers but he says even that doesn’t make it worth the working conditions. The smell, the crowds, and the unbearable heat make this a tough job on any day. Despite this, he still has a smile on his face.

photographing the dead

Paid photography looks different across cultures but is equally important. A client explains that the photos are important because they act as a kind of death certificate—proof that someone has died in cases of inheritance or land disputes. They are even given to loved ones who can’t make it to the funeral.

cost of prints

Where death is a celebration instead of a sombre event, families want to have moments to cherish captured by an experienced photographer. While photographing the dead is not as glamorous as photographing a beautiful fashion model in a studio, it’s still photography and it’s still important work.

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