Grief and a Lack of Good Photos

Photos can become a treasured possession when we are grieving.

Unfortunately, circumstances may result in regrets about the photos we possess.

We cannot change a lack of historical photos in our archives, but we can address the problem with creativity. Because photography is an interpretive art, we can feel liberty to create our own interpretive visuals.

If you are grieving a lack of photos – consider the following:

– Take a tip from our Victorian ancestors. When photography was introduced in the 19th century, the limitation of time and geography immediately became apparent to our ancestors. They responded by bringing a photo (daguerreotype) of the departed person to their photo session. Or, they might bring a personal item that represented the absent or deceased person. This served as a way to include the deceased, emotionally, in the picture. Like our ancestors, you could conduct a photo session that includes holding a portrait of the deceased.

– Portrait painting was the only visual record for the family before photography. Return to portrait painting! Use various pictures to have a “composite painting” commissioned. Artists can create one seamless painting of several photos. The only limit is your imagination. Look online for this service or use local artists. Do not part with your originals, make copies for them to use, just to be safe.

– Use your own expressive creativity to make a collage piece. Combine any constellation of people in your life into an interpretive piece of art. Work with copies (not originals) of your photos and mementos to create a 2D or 3D collage. The process can be very therapeutic and you can make an unlimited number of collages.

– It may not occur to people that they might have a picture that would mean something to you. Others may be afraid to upset you by initiating such a conversation. Put out a general call for photos, so that people know of your interest and desire. Some new photos just might turn up.

Images can be a powerful tool in bereavement to bring healing and meaning-making. Don’t let the lack of good photos deter you from finding solutions that will aid your mending heart.

Kim Go

More Articles Written by Kim

I am an artist in the expressive, installation and performance arts. I write because our shared cultural beliefs about loss offer far too few tools to people working with grief. When I was very young, I thought little about impermanence. Then, my personal encounters with impermanence grew to include such challenges as: my father's death in early childhood, a near-death experience in adolescence, divorce, fertility challenges, death of a soul mate and spouse and subsequent loss of access to step children, mugging and assault, pet loss, job loss, suicide of two close friends, and geographic resettlement. Perhaps we have something in common... perhaps not. I have learned that the specificity of the loss does not matter as much as the condition of the heart to be open to others who are learning to be present and alive regardless of the impermanence in their story. To Listen to Kim's Radio show: Click Here To reach me, visit my website at


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  • What a fantastic article! When going through the grieving process, part of healing is finding things that can keep the memories alive. I think part of the fear is that you’ll start to forget what someone looks like, smells like, feels like. This is such an intimate, creative and healing way to bring their spirit back.

  • Catherine Tidd says:

    I LOVE your idea about including a picture within a picture! I am definitely doing that at my next family photo shoot. I really wish I had done that the last time. What a great way to remember someone you’ve lost.

  • beth mg says:

    What a great idea, to ask others for photos of your loved one. In these days of digital photography, our photo archives are so huge, there are sure to be unknown treasures in there, if we but ask folks to search.

  • Kjersti Moline says:

    I love the idea of sending out a request for photos! So simple!

    And the collage suggestion…I have pictures that I like but don’t want
    to frame individually. I’m going to incorporate your collage idea to create a tribute to
    the generation ahead of me that is no longer with us in person. Thank you Kim.

  • ABB says:

    As a photographer, I found the suggestions excellent. It always surprises me how few candid photos we end up with. Even with cameras in our phones, it is hard to remember to take the time to snap that photo. I also notice, at least in my own work that often I have great pictures of people’s backs, and few of their faces. Take lots of photos, now with digital – you can always delete later.

  • Avery E. says:

    These ideas seem so obvious but so new. These are easy, effective things to help anyone wade through grief and come out onto high ground with something to treasure forever. Thanks, Kim, for another “I should have thought of that” moment.

  • Patricia says:

    Right you are Kim, photographs can tell a story! When my mother died, I put together a photo album for the memorial service. I created it on-line and had the best time sifting throught the family photographs and digitizing old, old photos in black and white from when she was a girl. It was an amazing experience because I created her life history through the art of photographic storytelling. I also, was able to see that she had a life previous to me as a young girl, college student and new wife. Most importantly, I was able to focus my attention on her life and not her death. It helped to see the big picture of her life from a mountain peak perspective.