Creator / Photographer
The Death Letter Project began as a PhD research project in late 2014. My initial goal was to invite fifty Australians to handwrite a letter, responding to: what is death; and what happens when we die?
The letters, designed for public display alongside photographic portraits of each contributor, were intended to inspire fresh thought, contemplation, and conversation about death - undoubtedly the most mystifying, feared, and significantly undiscussed human experience in modern western society.
Since the commencement of this project, as letters gradually began to arrive by mailbox or personal delivery, I would relish the seemingly sacred ritual of reading them: finding a quiet space in which to sit; the sacrosanct moment of unfolding them - followed by the intimate act of reading them - in many cases baring witness to the innermost beliefs, observances, grief, loss and loves of another. As I have discovered with every letter received, I have an insatiable desire and curiosity to learn more about death from the perspective of others - including a select few who have been resuscitated after cardiac arrest and have written about their "death" experiences.
The other dimension to the project - the photographic portraits - were generally taken within weeks of receiving the contributor's letter, and in settings familiar to them. As the photographer, this experience in itself was an intimate act: being invited into the private world of an acquaintance or stranger and directing them (however minimally) in order to best utilize the natural light and create the most engaging portraits.
To conclude, it is my hope that this project continues to expand beyond my initial goal of 50 letters/portraits, and contributes to the re-emergence of death literacy in western culture: normalizing conversations around death, and with any luck, lessening some of the fear and taboo surrounding it.
- Tina FiveAsh
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This research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship