I sat next to Roger, a man in his late 70’s, at a table in a small Evanston coffee shop. “Why are you here?” I asked.
“About 15 years ago, I had a close brush with death,” he said. “And afterwards I kept having these visions of laying on a gurney in Cook County Hospital and a nurse coming to check to see if I was dead every 15 minutes.”
“At that point I realized I needed to face death head-on,” he explained. “So I became a hospice worker. The visions quickly stopped.”
-One conversation at the Evanston death cafe, July 15, 2013
On July 15, 2013, I took photos at Evanston death cafe for the Chicago Tribune Sunday section. Death cafes are a new trend where people get together in coffee shops and chat about death in an objective and philosophical way. It isn’t therapy. It isn’t a support group. It just offers a place for people to talk about death, dealing with questions like “What is a good death?” and “Can you have a fun funeral?” in a no pressure environment (with a side of pastries and coffee).
Photo storytelling is something I’ve wanted to explore more, especially as I have begun to experiment with my DSLR camera. I’ve gone on photo assignment for news outlets before, but never on something so intimate. It was balancing act between listening to what people were saying and understanding how to capture the moment on film. It made me realize how much photojournalists are truly 50/50– photographer AND journalist. I asked questions, chatted and listened, and that was a big part of how I knew what to photograph. It’s no easy feat, and unfortunately one that is not understood and therefore valued, especially in Chicago (where the Sun-Times decided the same job could be done with iPhones).
The result of my assignment can be seen above, below, and on my Flickr. It was a wonderful experience and something I felt I learned from both on a professional and personal level. Be sure to read the article here, and you’ll likely see what I mean.