An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

One of the million, billion grains of sand in the desert

Portraits before and after death.

“This somber 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.”

These photos are simultaneously haunting and beautiful, and I’ve been riveted for the last half hour. Having looked at every photo I feel like I need to get up, walk outside and let the sun hit my face for a while. Be sure to read the text accompanying the photos.

(via The Morning News)


Just got this email from Mimi in Oakland:


Those images nauseated me and I should have never looked at them. While I respect your right to post whatever you want on your website, that you closed comments irritates me.

I’m disappointed in you; I think you’re a great big chicken shit for doing that. Why not let people respond? What were you afraid of? You obviously knew you’d get a response so why close the door to them?

I had no idea that link would inspire this kind of response, but there you go. Chicken shit I am not, so what did you think of those photos?

  • VinnyGirl

    No. 8, I totally agree with you. I kept hoping they wouldn’t be dead in the next picture.

  • Jane

    Heather, you close your comments all the time. I wouldn’t have thought this was any different. I believe you have every right to do so. That being said, the pictures are haunting – incredibly intimate and personal. I was only able to look at a couple but will come back to them later – maybe not even today or tomorrow.

    I am always amazed how people feel that they have the right to make such comments to you. My response would be, “If you don’t like it, don’t look.” You certainly gave fair warning in your intro.


  • I, too, was surprised by how peaceful they were. They simply looked like they were sleeping. The woman who felt rejected by life almost made me stop, though. I hope someone hugged her before she died.

  • Stacie

    You know, as a person whom is afraid of death, the afterlife and such, I thought it was haunting, beautiful, and maybe a little comforting. I hope all is well in their lives ( or lack thereof) now. Peace.

  • Jeanna

    I feel compelled to comment, even though at this moment, I’m not sure I can put into words what I’m feeling.

    As I went through the pictures, I couldn’t help but cry. It’s been barely a year since I lost my mother to cancer. I’ve been lost in my grief for so long that I often forget that at least now, my mom who had been through so much in her life, is finally at peace and without pain.

    Frankly, the after death photos were so incredibly beautiful in their peace and tranquility that I simply can’t fathom someone becoming nauseated viewing them.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Mindy

    They made me cry. Life is so very precious . . . and fleeting.

  • suzy

    Those photos were beautiful and poignant. Absolutely nothing nauseating about it. and it’s not like you said CLICK HERE everybody and didn’t elaborate.. what did Mimi want?- a pop-up flash page saying “warning….warning…”

    thanks for the link

  • Lori

    Thanks for the link. I thought the pictures were amazing and peaceful.
    You can always close your browser and walk away. You had fair warning. I think you’re the chicken shit.

  • Lindsay

    I think that the project is beautiful, and really gives some perspective. Thanks for sharing the link, Heather.

  • Me

    I was touched. I thought the images were peaceful, and I was interested to read their different stories and perspectives on the afterlife (or lack thereof).

    I also just called and made a doctor’s appointment that I had been putting off for a long time. Thanks, dooce.

  • I thought the photos were amazing. A little disturbing? Yes. Beautiful? Very. Could I finish looking at the whole set? No.

  • Kia

    Those photos made me want to start living. They are haunting and sad and peaceful and it’s too bad you got an email from that person.

  • They definitely made me cry. After I had a baby, the only thing I want to do anymore is live forever so I can be with him. My own mortality has snuck up on me lately. I guess.

    These images made me very sorrowful, but not in a bad way. They made me uncomfortable, but they’re meant to. I think. They made me question the fact that I get so annoyed by such little things.

    They made me want to help the elderly.

    Also, I do hope that one gent is still somehow getting the football (soccer) scores wherever he may be.

    And I’m glad the woman who held such anger toward her ex finally got rid of it and hopefully died peacefully.

    If anything, these pictures should show us to get out and do something today, say sorry to someone, not get so worked up, feel OK with things.

    I’m sad today. hahahaha

  • I found them inspiring! Thanks for posting them!

  • lotsalisa

    I thought they all looked at peace. I’ve been with family as they died and I think these portraits are a lovely testament to living and enjoying the time we each have left on earth.

  • Sounds like Mimi is having a bad day. Did someone force her to click the link and look at the photos? I was expecting something horrid after reading Mimi’s comment, but I thought the photos were interesting – not at all shocking.

  • So very beautifully touching. Thank you for sharing this link.

  • sheryl

    Nikki, #38
    Thank you. Your comment offers such a helpful perspective

  • Amy

    It’s a reminder, to me at least, of just how insignificant we are. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be a nice person. Get off your high horse. And all that. Thanks for posting.

  • Valerie

    Beautiful. If something doesn’t make you want to go kiss your kids and other loved ones, and consiously live a better day, I don’t know what will. That is, ironically, something I very much needed today. Thank you, Heather.

  • Amazing images, both of life and of death. I found it fascinating, the similarities between the way people live, and the way they die. It seems those that were positive in life had an easier time accepting their fate.

    I did not find this offensive at all. We would be a healthier society alltogether if we were more willing to embrace the inevitibility we all face. Death.

    Well Done Heather.

  • Anonymous

    I thought they were disturbing, and I couldn’t get past the third image, but I knew what I was getting myself into. Mimi’s comments are clearly over the top, and if she judges you for being a “chicken shit” by not opening comments, then she clearly does not respect your right to put whatever you want on your own website as she claims.

  • Tom

    Mayhaps Mimi thought the photos would be grotesque in some fashion and felt cheated?

  • What dug (#7) said. Those are my feelings, exactly. The “haunting,” the “nauseating,” and the “not in a bad way.” Thanks for sharing this, Heather.

  • Nauseating is the sound the body makes on the table when the embalming machine is run too long. I use to work as an obit writer and Funeral Home directors were in the habit of calling me while multi-tasking.

    These images are striking and incredibly moving.

  • These are very interesting. There is so much respect on the part of the photographer. I think it’s interesting that those who are peaceful in life are relatively peaceful in death, and about their deaths. I was reflecting on death today in my blog.
    I think one guy made an important point- some people don’t want to pretend that they aren’t going to die. These photographers were listening as well as taking pictures- that’s what makes these portraits and not snapshots.

  • Anonymous

    That was amazing, I’m so glad I looked at it. Thank you for posting it.

  • I found them peaceful. Like in the 2nd photo of each person, there was less worry lines, less strain. I hope we all find peace before we die, but that death also brings peace. You could sort of see which people found peace in knowing the end was near. Does that make sense?
    Lovely find Heather.

  • I loved these photos – thank you for posting them.

  • Erica

    these were all done in good taste. This should be a wake up call for everyone to appreciate what/who they have.

  • This was beautiful.

    Things that make people uncomfortable are not always bad.

    Death is a reality we all have to face one day. It’s nice to be reminded that we are merely a blip in time; beautiful uniquely blips, but blips just the same.

    It puts things in perspective; for me at least.

  • Meghan

    I saw the photos on both BoingBoing and Metafilter this morning, and when I read the captions, I cried. My dog, my best friend of nine years, died yesterday, and the captions got me thinking about how final death is, and how short life is.

  • Thank you. These were incredibly moving, and a real counterpoint to the petty annoyances of my morning. What an honor, really, to have such an intimate glimpse of these people.

  • jp

    these photos and accompanying stories reminded me to live hard and live well, tomorrow may not belong to me…

  • Sundee

    Creepy. Sad. Real. Insane. Comforting. Odd. All these emotions, yet I am glad I checked it out.

  • Jay

    At the San Antonio Museum of Art a few years back was a showing of self portraits and portraits. Some of the painting dated way back. In some of the paintings the artist would write a little bio about the person in the painting. One was of a boy (Painted when alive) who had died of smallpox. Others were portraits of young children that had died and been dress in angle costumes and decorated with jewelry. I think the interesting thing about the exhibit is that when I saw the paintings of the dead children I knew they were dead and not sleeping. Artist can really capture the emptiness of the vessels.

  • amy

    Thank you for posting this.

  • Sue

    Beautiful work….even the subjects who had struggled throughout their lives found serenity and peace in death.

  • they were beautiful and true…just like life and death. thank you for the link.

  • it is majorly rude to call someone chicken shit. like, my gosh. would you say that to someone’s face? why is it ok behind a computer screen?

  • ely

    Not an ounce in my body made me feel nauseated at the sight of these photos. On the contrary, I felt that in many ways the photographer captured the beauty in these people that even death could not steal away from them. I felt moved by the series, moved by the fragility of life, and to me, that makes it a worthwhile piece.

  • It is a really haunting set of pictures. The ones that got to me the most were the ones that had more time between the two pictures.

    I hope they each lived full lives.

  • Meg

    I think the pictures were beautiful, and more disturbing than the photos were some of the stories. I wish the people in the photos could have seen how powerfully their images would be used. I also agree with Crystal, and hope everyone got a hug before they left.

    I think anyone who used the comments to berate Mimi for what was a shocked reaction (appropriate or not) is missing the point entirely. A group of people open-minded enough to appreciate death portraits somehow cannot stop from responding to an email that wasn’t even sent to them… I don’t want to believe comments were opened for that purpose.

  • Catherine

    Thank you for posting this link.
    There was so little difference in the before and after photos, except the eyes…truly the windows to the soul.

  • I really like the pictures. I think the idea is very creative. It’s interesting to see the expression, or lack of, on their face when they’re alive and to see it change when they’re dead. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sitting here at work trying not to cry too obviously. I have often thought that death might be ‘the answer’. Looking at these pictures and reading the stunningly honest captions have given me pause. I might have to reconsider my position. Thanks you so very much for sharing.

  • Jessica

    Primarily, I think that Mimi’s comments aren’t really about you or your link. Her reaction is a reflection on how comfortable she is with the idea of death and maybe, possibly her own mortality. Death is scary stuff to lots of people for all sorts of reasons: the indignity of it, the loss of control, the feeling like you’re leaving behind more regrets then things you can look back and on and say ‘yes that was wonderful’. I’m in forensics so I have a lot of contact with death, dying and the individual. Provocative explorations about cultural perceptions and reflections on dying tends to open a rift within people’s own selves. It forces them to inventory their lives and their current “preparedness” for the inevitable and I think, more often then not, a lot of people just feel afraid and they react as such.

  • thank you Heather. This is what it means to be human. Thank you. x

  • Melanie

    These portraits are beautiful. People are so afraid of death, so unwilling to look at it and examine it. It’s part of life – a beautiful part of life, really. One hopes that it comes at the end of a meaningful life that was well lived. It doesn’t always, but it is always meaningful. I think that we don’t look at death enough. We turn away from it, which is a disservice to those who are dying and to ourselves.

  • It seems that the second photograph of each person allows you to feel that that person’s soul is no longer part of that body. It makes me sad to think of the people in my life that could be gone at any moment…it makes me want to go out and do something spectacular today to touch someone else’s life.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more