For those who look after them, pets belong to the family. Just like the people we love the most, they give us relief and joy – but there comes a time in which they have to leave us. When it comes to relatives and friends, we have at our disposal a series of conventions and rituals that help us cope with grief but when an animal dies, we can’t rely upon religious services or graveyards. How shall we soften the pain of separation and face the loss?
The Turkish photographer Emir Ozsahin has started to reflect on all this after seeing the picture of a friend who had died violently: “I lost a very close friend three years ago. I couldn’t get out of my head the image of her body covered with newspapers. While I was trying to get rid of this image, I realized that the image of her alive was fading away as well. Her last photograph shouldn’t have been like that. Or I shouldn’t have seen it.”
So Emir decided to work on a project that may reconcile him with death, and explore the theme from a different – and more positive – iconographic and emotional perspective. He developed his aesthetic “rebellion” against the horror inspired by corpses in the photographic series Pastel Deaths, representing dead animals placed in a more serene context, where – as suggested by the title – pastel colours play a dominant role.
Dead animals simply seem to be resting in a sweet sleep, within a childish and idyllic setting. There is not a shadow of anguish in these photographs, as they reflect the author’s intention to provide memory with a last image of the subject filled with peace and tranquillity. His work is a symbolic reinvention of death according to more pleasant models. There is of course the danger of avoiding grief instead of coping with it, a problem of which the artist himself is well aware:
“By humanizing deceased animals and showing them as if they were sleeping, I tried to briefly touch death and create a series of photographs about pushing away the feeling of disappearing before it hits us hard in the face. […] I’m seriously not sure if this is an escape or an acceptance for me. All I know is that the photographs have a positive effect on me.”
And, given the success of the series, they have had a considerable effect also on the public. They have spread almost everywhere on the Web and have received comments voicing emotion and involvement; many people expressed a desire to have a similar memento for their pets, when the time of parting comes. Because, in order to cope with death, we always need symbols, proper images, new metaphors.