by Maria Luci
After responding to a Wonderful Machine Stockbox request from German magazine Der Speigel, Missouri-based lifestyle photographer Mark Katzman also sent along a very personal series he thought they might be interested in. He was right, they were, and not only did they publish Mark’s photos, but they added any accompanying essay by Mark as well. The series, “Losing Betty” focuses around the last days of Mark’s beloved grandmother, a woman he considered both his mentor and best friend.
From Der Spiegel
The moving essay and a few of the photos are below:
I had been photographing my grandmother for almost forty years – in part because she lived close by and in part because she was unconditionally supportive of my work. I resonated at an early age with her aesthetic – simple, organic and honest. She lived in a small, modest home that was full of beautiful objects – mostly shells, feathers, dried flowers, etc.
Whenever I would get a new camera or experiment with a new technique, I would go to her house. We traveled to beautiful places together and shared simple beautiful experiences. I photographed and she explored. She was my mentor for art and life. She was my best friend and had a significant influence on my evolution as a photographer.
I thought she would live forever. I was out of town on a shoot when I received the call that she had laid down for a nap and didn’t get up. She was 94. I was in disbelief and denial. She was living independently, driving, thriving – actually. Her calendar was full. But it was true. She suffered a major stroke and the prognosis was bad.
I took the first flight home. She had been completely unresponsive. When I sat on her bed, she looked me in the eyes and struggled to say something. I told her, crying, that everything was under control and that I knew what to do. She relaxed. She had made me promise that if she could not ‘live’ to let her die. The next morning we removed all life support and began the vigil.
The doctors expected her to last three days. The family gathered and did not leave her side. Three days turned to five then to seven. We were with her every moment – crying, laughing, telling stories, fighting, and trying to accept the fact that we were saying good-bye. It was horrible and beautiful. I photographed. No one asked why or objected – maybe they understood that was how I could cope with such a loss. I did not know why either. It was my first experience with nurturing someone to death. Betty and I actually had an ongoing joke about taking her picture. She always refused and made me beg. I would plead with her telling her over and over how beautiful she was. Eventually she would give me a frame or two. She now had no choice. And it was my last chance. I struggled with how she would feel about it – actually I knew the answer – she would tell me she hated it, but actually she would feel special and beautiful.
I believe she would be honored to have these photographs of her dying published – she lived a rich life and died a simple death. She has been gone four years now and it is still painful how much I miss her – especially when I see something so simple, genuine and beautiful that I want to photograph and experience with her.