When German photographers Joanna Nottebrock and Insa Cathérine Hagemann chose to explore the topics of death and dying, they made a decision to do so as a team. They say the thought of sharing such a heavy project appealed to them.
Nottebrock, 35, and Hagemann, 29, photographed a variety of scenes throughout Germany and the Czech Republic, including undertakers and their workspaces in their hometown of Hanover, Germany.
Their goal was to explore the mystery and fear that often surrounds mortality.
“Our society develops more and more an unnatural relationship with death, which in my opinion is a (counter)-productive development as it fosters and roots fear,” Nottebrock said.
With their series on undertakers, Nottebrock and Hagemann hope to give the viewer a closer look at the men and women in an often berated line of work.
“The morticians know about their bad image as they immediately get related with death and are very keen on changing that image, which is the reason why they (supported) our project,” Nottebrock said.
The duo made up-close “serial” portraits of more than a dozen morticians in Hanover between 2010 and 2011. They then photographed the interior spaces of the funeral homes where they worked.
Juxtaposing the images side by side humanizes the undertakers and offers an alternative perspective to stereotypes, the photographers say.
“Morticians don't see themselves as pure service providers but more as companions during a hard phase of life,” Nottebrock said.
Hagemann added: "We want to give the viewer the possibility to compare the persons and to find out differences or similarities by themselves."
The two collaborated on each image, sharing the credit equally for everything they produced. They both sought out subjects and scheduled shoots. They also relied on each other for moral support to deal with a subject matter so sensitive and somber.
To branch out from their series on undertakers, they documented funeral services, cremations and grieving family members throughout Germany. They also attended burials in the Czech Republic, where many Germans go to bury their dead more affordably.
"Probably (neither) of us would have (had) the time to organize everything alone and to make all these photo sessions in this time," Hagemann said.
The portrait series is part of their upcoming book "Memento Mori – Remember that you die."
- Raymond McCrea Jones, CNN
Joanna Nottebrock will be participating in the Eddie Adams Workshop in Jeffersonville, New York, on October 5-8. The workshop, in its 25th year, was created by famed photojournalist Eddie Adams and gives 100 carefully selected students a tuition-free learning experience with industry professionals.