Photographer Walter Sachels was terrified of death, so much so he refused to see his mother after she passed away. Upon entering his 70s, Schels finally decided to overcome his fear through a bold, bizarre project – photographing individuals before and directly after their death.
Schels and his partner Beat Lakotta began approaching potential individuals at hospices in Berlin and Hamburg. The pair were on constant alert, at times running out in the middle of the night to shoot before the undertaker would come.
Though emotionally draining, Schels recognized that the series became an important epitaph to people before they actually died. With family and friends unable to cope with the looming truth, terminally ill patients often feel completely isolated.
“It’s so good you’re doing this”, Schels quoted a dying man to The Guardian, “No one else is listening to me, no one wants to hear or know what it’s really like.”
Schels is no longer terrified of death and now sees avoidance of the issue as a serious problem in contemporary society, people unable to be truly present for loved ones when they need them most. Life Before Death is an attempt to confront our worst fears and perhaps, to see those nearing the end in a more human light. For the individual stories behind each of the portraits click here.
Our society alienating us from the reality of death is probably one of the things that makes it so easy for us to blindly support war, and to put an animal to sleep for a stupid reason like moving to an apartment that doesn’t take animals.
Unpleasant customers who complain and say they’d rather go somewhere else.
Homeless man sleeps outside a diner in Milwaukee. Picture taken by Collin Rocka.