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When Death Comes

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Published Apr 21, 2016 | View the Assignment | Features Photos From 29 Contributors

    29 photos selected by

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer
    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    Pieces of lives in my archives. I met Marjorie during the summer of 2013 for an article about h...

    #whendeathcomesassignment

    Enlightenment for a wave is the moment the wave realizes that it is water. At that moment, all fear of death disappears. —Thich Nhat Hanh

    We offered you the challenge of translating one of our deepest human fears into a meaningful image to share with the Your Shot community. For many of you, going beyond the familiar clichés meant conquering a visceral dread, to try to understand what death truly means to you, before you could even begin photographing.

    At the start of the assignment, we saw a huge number of literal, predictable visuals, but as many of you began digging deeper, we encountered more thoughtful, experimental approaches and more adventurous results. With time we were also seeing a higher proportion of technically refined images, which by displaying more attention to composition and light, attained a certain elegance of the frame.

    We admired those of you who returned to situations to rework them, trying out different techniques. A determination to investigate more honestly separated serious photographers from those who seemed content to stay on the surface. We also realized that people were going back into their existing work, using this assignment as a catalyst to re-edit. While that can be valuable, this kind of recycling doesn’t allow for growth in your shooting.

    ...

    #people #blackandwhite #whendeathcomes

    Editor's Note

    An elegant image of crossing from life to a place for the dead. Everything works well—atmosphere, light, design, simplicity and the delicate message of names on the column.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    When i am thinking about death, no matter when and way it is coming, I believe it's not the e...

    #light #soul #old_house #when_death_doesnt_mean_goodbye #when_death_comes_assignment

    Editor's Note

    This photographer used imagination and deeply personal belief to create this image. That is it's power, combined with a unifying warm tone that allows us to drift off into the night as well.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    The man who lives here had lost his wife some time ago. With his little bit of English and my (v...

    #reflection #mirror #death #cuba #chair #loss #apartment #emptiness #grief

    Editor's Note

    The reflected chair speaks of a long-mourned wife in this Cuban home. The atmospheric light adds... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    Innocent child dreaming.People believe that our souls go somewhere,while sleeping,and return afte...

    #art #still #people #symbol #creative #veronika #kolev #fancoral #whendeathcomes #yourverticalworld

    This was my first attempt at a double exposer shot, these 2 pictures hanging in our house.The fis...

    #doubleexposure #black__and_white

    'Maybe there is a creator that mends together our mechanical features,and then there is a...

    #woman #light #portrait #shadow #blackandwhite #afterlife #edge80 #whendeathcomesassignment

    Editor's Note

    This image is pure emotion. We can feel her sadness. Even the out of focus quality and deep shadows add to the sentiment.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    This image was captured during the full moon in Tiniteqilaag, Greenland. The cemetery is very old...

    #cemetery #cross #aurora #graveyard #full_moon #when_death_comes

    Editor's Note

    Light, light, light—that is the language of photography. Many people photographed cemeteries for this assignment but the light set this one apart.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    In New York City, perseverance, tenacity and determination prevail. Human spirit always overcomes...

    #architecture #people #light #death #walk #hope #lookoutside #builttowalk #followtheyellowborder

    Editor's Note

    While the luminescent high walls draw us forward, following the silhouetted visitors toward the city ahead, the arc of reflected light acts as an upward arrow creating its own sense of urgency and ... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    daughter hugging her father while visiting the grave of his mother in her day

    #people #death #reallife #blac_and_white #death_and_life #whendeathcomes

    Editor's Note

    This photographer did a beautiful job of transmitting a real and emotional moment without allowing ego, lens choice or other distractions to get in the way. Beautiful.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    surrounded by people I love. And I am glad for every minute I spend with my family. No matter wha...

    #people #family #blackandwhite #gender #natgeoinspires #ngmadventure #ngmhealth

    Editor's Note

    The mystery of death is difficult to communicate but this alludes to that in the way it was framed with bits and pieces of reality and emotion layered together.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    With our hunter cat we have no mouse in the house. But when my daughter discovered the last offer...

    #kid #mouse #dead_animal #traveler_photo_contest_2015

    Editor's Note

    The loving attention to the humblest of creatures is emphasized by the selective focus that steers our attention to the mouse and the offerings in the coffin, by the angle that hides the girl’s fac... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    last story swim of my dead goldfish in my hand .......... No one wants to die. Even people who w...

    #blue #paint #abstract #life #hand #death #swim #fingers #goldfish #when_death_comes #natgeoinspires

    Editor's Note

    A witty yet touching way of coping with the death of a pet. In its way, as imaginative and comforting as a children’s fable.

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    A dead fly. Interesting.

    #fly #girl #insect #interesting #dead_fly

    Editor's Note

    The child’s body language in this lighthearted glimpse says it all about our fascination with death. The light on her sparky shoes, the black punctuation of the fly against the white floor, even t... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    Funeral for Skippy. Upon our return home, our beloved Skippy bird had passed away under the care ...

    #still #bird #pet #death #parakeet #funeral

    Editor's Note

    We love our pets, and provide them all the comforts of home in the afterlife, as the Egyptians did their pharaohs. The vignetting around the edges highlights the protagonist on the cloth’s center ... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    A child sits next to a mortar-rocket fin and an unexploded artillery shell that fell on his home ...

    #people #travel #conflict #syria #explore

    Editor's Note

    Sometimes the power of an image is the purely shocking nature of the truth. This child is touching an unexploded shell that fell in his Aleppo home. Isolating him on the floor worked very well.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    one day i visited my friend Rabie Alameddine in Beirut and was so exited to take photo for his d...

    #people #girl #photography #portait #toy #beirut #bla_and_white #celenaalameddine

    Editor's Note

    The girl’s fresh and deceptively innocent face shines out all the more amid her disfigured zombie companions, in this sly yet disquieting image. The catchlight brings out her eyes, and those of th... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    Fearful thoughts can destroy me. Having faith, even when i don't have answers, is what sustai...

    #abstract #skull #black_and_white #fear_of_loss #when_death_comes

    Editor's Note

    "Life is complicated," says this photographer. Indeed - and this image is a reflection of that truth - that our lives and deaths are a difficult blend of humanity and technology. The use of black a... More

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    A close up of what remains of a dead green iguana dried under the harsh sun of Bonaire Island, Ne...

    #blue #wildlife #animal #skin #death #iguana #dead #dried #remains #rests #theeth

    Editor's Note

    The lighting on the iguana’s scaly texture, iridescent color, and geometric teeth conjure up the presence of a prehistoric monster from a nightmare.

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    Tokay gecko fights for life with a golden tree snake. Golden tree snakes are very common throu...

    #thailand #sukhothai #golden_tree_snake #tokay_gecko

    Editor's Note

    The dramatic struggle is heightened by the brilliant color and circular graphic shape of the two interwoven reptiles (anchored by the piercing eye), against the pattern of more muted stones.

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    This bird hit my window. It thought it was the forest as it reflected from the glass. I hope this...

    #nature #bird #death #blood #lithuania

    Editor's Note

    The foreshortening focuses our attention on the bird’s face—the open eye and the beak resting in blood. The lichen on the pavement picks up the lighter speckles in the feathers, and the soft light... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    kids during the vacation at the country

    #life #chicken #death #everyday #black__and_white

    Editor's Note

    The choice of black and white and a well selected sliver of time showing the children's reaction to this chicken's destiny made an impactful photograph.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    Funeral of Ileana. Ileana mother of four, wife and good neighbour died at 69 from lung cancer, s...

    #woman #people #church #death #faith #good #ortodox

    Editor's Note

    I just love the reality of this moment faithfully documented. We are present, teetering at the gravesite, aware of the deeply personal good bye.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    A mother saying goodbye to her child. Pashupathinath temple, Kathmandu Nepal.

    #hindu #portrait #nepal #temple #hinduism #deathrituals #janmoellerhansen #deathritual

    Editor's Note

    The raw agony of a parent’s grief, made all the more powerful by the fact that her face and the baby’s face are the two turned upward toward us. Her cry reads as movement at the center of the clu... More

    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor

    The vision of spiritual journey that begins with death! ........."He was almost dead, Inhaling...

    #eyes #man #people #death #alone #danger #fear #journey #sweat #terror

    Editor's Note

    It is the harsh reality of death that is present here-- made more shocking and real with the one tone, strangely colored light.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    For my Mother: This was taken February 22, 2015, two days before she passed away. I find this unu...

    #memorial #mother #death #love #illness #grief #saying_goodbye #almost_home #whendeathcomes

    Editor's Note

    This is a beautiful honoring of this photographer's mother. You can feel the love and respect here in the color and closeness, in the rendering of her delicate skin. She seems asleep. How brave of ... More

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    Tristin Woods passed away unexpectedly in a car accident, a month before his wedding day. Tristin...

    #memorial #underwater #death #portrait #love #marriage

    We are grateful to the Your Shot community members for their courage in expressing such intimate thoughts on death and for showing extraordinary support for one another. The quality of the listening and the insightful coaching created a safe space in which people were able to address emotionally difficult events of the past, and of this moment, in both words and images.

    Our hope is that your experiences during this assignment will free you to share your thoughts on death and the meaning of your lives with family and friends. We hope that what you’ve learned in dealing with this daunting topic acts as a catharsis, allowing you to move on feeling lighter, and more fearless, going into the next assignment.

    You have taught us an invaluable lesson: When it comes to understanding profound subjects, art is essential.

    My partner Jacqui died at home after having lived with MND (Lou Gehrig's Disease/ALS) for five ye...

    #flowers #death #dying #corpse #coffin #whendeathcomes

    Editor's Note

    Two kinds of loss - both of these images (photo above it in story) together feel like they add power to each. Both speak to loss of beloved partners. Both use the power of color and beautifully des... More

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    A photo is not just a photo in my family... two people in this image are dead but three are stil...

    #is #family #who #the #whoin

    Editor's Note

    For this photographer a photo in the hand is a way to keep family members alive. Nicely seen, simple and meaningful.

    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer

    Water is water, no matter what its shape or form. The solidity of ice imagines itself to be its edges and density. Melting, it remembers; evaporating, it ascends.

    —Stephen Levine

    About the Editors
    Lynn Johnson
    Lynn Johnson
    National Geographic Photographer
    Photojournalist Lynn Johnson has been photographing the global human condition for the past 35 years. A regular contributor to publications like National Geographic and to various foundations, Johnson brings a subtle perspective to tough issues—the scourge of landmines, the value of threatened languages, and rape in the military among others. ...
    Elizabeth Krist
    Elizabeth Krist
    Photo Editor
    Elizabeth Cheng Krist was a long-time photo editor with National Geographic. She curated the Women of Vision exhibition and book, as well as an auction for Christie’s. Krist has judged grants and competitions for Visura, PDN, Critical Mass, Aftermath, and the State Department, and with her colleagues has won awards ...

    Photographers Published In the Story