Once taboo, funeral pics gain acceptance
IT WAS a sombre affair, like any other Buddhist funeral service - wooden tables draped with plastic sheets, paper plates laden with peanuts and sweets, and, of course, an altar.
But in one corner was a man armed with a camera, snapping away at the family and friends of the dead person.
No, it was not the funeral of a high-profile individual and the man was not intruding.
He was, in fact, a professional funeral photographer, paid $1,500 to document the wake, a curious engagement even in this day and age, said funeral directors.
Joni Lim, the dead man's granddaughter, said: "I wanted to remember the occasion, to have photos as a form of remembrance of my grandfather. Everyone has to depart some day, so why not have photos and videos of the funeral as a keepsake?"
Ms Lim, 29, a property developer, said that the photographer's presence also lightened the mood, with friends commenting that it had seemed like a party.
Such photo assignments, while still uncommon, are slowly picking up in Singapore.
Sng Meng Lee, the photographer at the wake of Ms Lim's grandfather, went full steam ahead into the business of funeral photography last year, after starting out part-time in 2011. He was inspired by the warmth and kindness showered on him at his own father's funeral, and felt it was a shame to let those moments go unrecorded.
Said Mr Sng, 36: "My father was, in my opinion, such a noble person. He shouldn't leave this world just like that, I thought."
Hoping that others felt the same way, the self-taught photographer approached a funeral home in 2011 and asked if it could recommend him to customers who might be interested. The response was poor at first, but business turned around a few months later, after people had seen his work.
He has since partnered with three funeral companies - Life Celebrant, Singapore Funeral Services and Ang Chin Moh - and accepts up to 12 customers a month, up from four a month in 2011.
But his job is not a walk in the park.
To prevent misunderstandings, he always begins his assignments by having a casual chat with the family of the dead person. "I tell them what I'm here to do," he said, adding that other rules he observes include not using a flash and avoiding taking photos when an individual is crying.
Funeral companies said that attitudes towards funerals are changing.
"More are now open to the idea (of photography) because they realise it is the last chance they have to do something to remember their loved ones," said Hong Chye Hoo, 35, director of Singapore Funeral Services.
The idea of funeral photography was such a taboo years ago that he did not bother offering the service, he said. But, now, about half of his 50-odd customers monthly take it up.
Funeral director Ang Jolie of Life Celebrant has also seen a similar change in mindset. About 70 per cent of families who approach the 34-year-old choose to have photos and videos taken.
Still, such assignments are not every photographer's cup of tea.
Zep Chow, co-founder of Lumiere Photography Singapore, has had three funeral photography requests over the six years his company has been in business, but rejected them because they were "complicated".
"Some members within the family would disagree with each other, especially among the older generation," he said.