Saturday, September 8, 2012

Life Before Death by Walter Schels

This sombre series of portraits taken of people before and after they had died is a challenging and poignant study. The work by German photographer Walter Schels and his partner Beate Lakotta, who recorded interviews with the subjects in their final days, reveals much about dying - and living. The result is a collection of photographs of 24 people - ranging from a baby of 17 months to a man of 83.

Heiner Schmitz, 52 - Heiner was a fast talker, highly articulate, quick-witted, but not without depth. He worked in advertising. When he saw the affected area on the MRI scan of his brain he had grasped the situation very quickly: he had realized he didn’t have much time left.- LINK
Michael Foege, 50 - Shortly after his 50th Birthday Michael learned of his brain tumor. Within months he had little to no language abilities, the right side of his face was paralyzed as well as his arm.  In January 2003, a month before his death, he could no longer speak. - LINK
Gerda Strech, 68 - Gerda couldn’t believe that cancer was cheating her of her hard-earned retirement. “My whole life was nothing but work, work, work,” she told me. She had worked on the assembly line in a soap factory, and had brought up her children single-handedly. “Does it really have to happen now? Can’t death wait?” she sobbed - LINK
Michael Lauermann, 56 - "I really loved life. Now it's over. I'm not afraid of what's coming." - LINK
Maria Hai-Anh Tuyet Cao, 52 "Death is nothing,” says Maria. “I embrace death. It is not eternal. Afterwards, when we meet God, we become beautiful. We are only called back to earth if we are still attached to another human being in the final seconds” - LINK
Jens Pallas, 62 - Sister Dagmar could not detect any signs of a final struggle for breath. Nothing, save for the startled look, as if he had wanted to say: "What? Was that it?" - LINK
Edelgard Clavey, 67
Edelgard was divorced in the early eighties, and lived on her own from then on; she had no children. From her early teens she was an active member of the Protestant church. She contracted cancer about a year before she died, and towards the end she was bed-bound. Once she was very ill she felt she was a burden to society and really wanted to die. - LINK
Klara Behrens, 83 - Klara Behrens knows she hasn’t got much longer to live. “Sometimes, I do still hope that I’ll get better,” she says. “But then when I’m feeling really nauseous, I don’t want to carry on living. And I’d only just bought myself a new fridge-freezer! If I’d only known!” - LINK
Elly Genthe, 83, was a tough, resilient woman who had always managed on her own. She often said that if she couldn’t take care of herself, she’d rather be dead. When I met her for the first time, she was facing death and seemed undaunted: she was full of praise for the hospice staff and the quality of her care. But, when I visited again a few days later, she seemed to sense her strength was ebbing away. - LINK
Beate Taube, 44 - Beate had been receiving treatment for breast cancer for four years, but by the time we met she had had her final course of chemotherapy, and knew she was going to die. She had even been to see the grave where she was to be buried - LINK
Roswitha Pacholleck, 47 - “It’s absurd really. It’s only now that I have cancer that, for the first time ever, I really want to live,” Roswitha told me on one of my visits, a few weeks after she had been admitted to the hospice. “They’re really good people here,” she said. “I enjoy every day that I’m still here. Before this my life wasn’t a happy one” - LINK
Peter Kelling, 64 - Peter Kelling had never been seriously ill in his life. He was a civil servant working for the health and safety executive, and didn’t allow himself any vices. And yet one day he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. By the time I met him, the cancer had spread to his lungs, his liver and his brain. “I’m only 64,” he muttered. “I shouldn’t be wasting away like this” - LINK
Elmira Sang Bastian - First photo taken 2002, second photo in 2004 - LINK
Walter Wegner, 81 - In November 2003 Walter Wegner moved into the hospice. He no longer wanted to be a burden to his lady friend at home. He has brought his electric organ with him, “but it’s hardly worth me practicing any Christmas carols: I’ll be dead by Christmas.” But things turn out differently. He’s still there on New Year’s Eve.- LINK
Rita Schoffler, 62 - Rita and her husband had divorced 17 years before she became terminally ill with cancer. But when she was given her death sentence, she realised what she wanted to do: she wanted to speak to him again. It had been so long, and it had been such an acrimonious divorce: she had denied him access to their child, and the wounds ran deep. - LINK
Barbara Gröne, 51 - All her life, Barbara had been plagued by the idea that she has no right to be alive. She had been an unwanted baby: soon after her birth, her mother had put her into a home. But she had a strong survival instinct, and became very focused, she said, very disciplined in the way she lived. After much hard work, it seemed that life was at last delivering her a better hand - LINK
Wolfgang Kotzhan, 57 - "Now I see everything from a totally different perspective: every cloud outside my window, every flower in the vase. Suddenly, everything matters." - LINK
Ursula Appledom, 57. First photo taken 2003.11.19, second photo taken 2003.12.22 - LINK

Walter Schels and Beate Lakotta - LINK

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