To cover the unbearable


November 19, 2006|By Chiaki Kawajiri | Chiaki Kawajiri,Sun Staff

It's hard to take a picture when you are crying, and harder still not to cry when you are surrounded by the family and friends of bright young people who died for no good reason.

I don't like funeral assignments and try to avoid them because of my sensitivity to the sadness that surrounds them. Still, for a newspaper photographer, there are always days when dreaded assignments come. The only way I have been able to bring myself to deal with them is to believe that my images will move those who see them to empathy that somehow might be felt by the grieving families.

Last Saturday, I was assigned to shoot two sad events - a memorial service for Jamelle Carter, a student at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore who was shot by a stranger while standing on a street corner in Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood, and the Northeast Baltimore funeral of 17-year-old Nikki Edmonds, who was pursued and murdered by strangers after she and her brother left a light rail station at North Avenue.

Nikki's funeral was devastating. I took pictures of her sister, Nicole, as tears were streaming down her face and mine. The image through my viewfinder was blurred as I shot her mother and father and friends surrounding the casket where Nikki lay.

The families knew I was at both events. I always introduce myself when covering funerals or memorial services out of respect for intruding at this moment of intense grief. Both families thanked me for attending the services.

Nikki's brother called her murder "senseless" but said death is not meaningless. Later, at Jamelle's candle-lit memorial, his mother told family and friends that she appreciated their shared love and grief.

I photographed the young son of a friend of Jamelle surrounded by others, all holding lighted candles and wearing T-shirts with his image on them. Tears continued to flood my eyes as I spoke to the image of Jamelle before me. "You are loved," I said. It seemed this day would never end.

A portfolio of other images taken by Sun photographers can be seen at

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