family group in funeral attire

A thousand words

Above: After the funeral 1, Alexandria, Virginia, 1969

My dad was very good at composing a scene. When I got my first 35mm camera, he took a picture of me with it in front of our house. Then he asked me to take a picture of him in the same spot. I had to wait until the roll was finished and the film developed and printed, but then I saw immediately that his was different and better. He taught me more about photography in that one exercise than he could have told me in a one hour lecture.

But he wasn’t always that good at reading people–what we would call ‘reading the room’ today. The day of my grandfather’s funeral was full of pomp and patriotic pride. He was buried at Arlington with full military honors. My dad’s pictures of the event echo images of last rites for Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Lincoln. But by the time we retired to our house in Alexandria, people were tired. I remember my mother cringing as Dad composed various family groups for portraits on the front lawn.

In this photo, all of the stages of weariness are here. My aunt holds my cousin in place in an attempt to ‘just get this over with.’ But the portraits had to be done. When would we have the family all in one place like this again? Funerals bring us together.