Richard’s story: Photographing grief

May 2022

WAY Widowed and Young member Richard came to our community fun day last week to showcase his new photography project about grief following the loss of a spouse - ‘The One I Chose; The One Who Chose Me’.

When Richard Cranefield’s wife died in August 2021, he was part way through a two-year Master’s Degree in Photography. He decided to document grief by turning his lens on other people who had been widowed at a young age. Ahead of an exhibition in Birmingham next week, Richard takes up the story…

WAY member Richard Cranefield

WAY member Richard Cranefield

 "I am in the last phase of the two-year Master’s Degree in Photography at Falmouth University, which is a great creative arts university in Cornwall. For most of the course, I had been collaborating with my 12-year-old daughter – making images about adolescence and the impact of lockdown and isolation on children. But after my wife died last year, I didn’t feel I could carry on with that body of work. Instead, partly fascinated by my own grief experience, and partly inspired by talking to another widow about her experience, I decided to embark on a new project: to document and portray the lived experience of grief by those who lose their spouse before the age of 50.

About two months into my grief, a friend put me in touch with someone whose husband had died of bowel cancer a few years before. We spoke mainly by email and text, but I felt slightly lifted being able to talk to someone who understood the myriad of thoughts rattling

around my head, and who genuinely didn’t mind getting a text to say I’d had a terrible day. Her experience and situation was different to mine, but being in touch with someone further through the grief journey than I was really helped.

An invisible thread of connection

A few months later she told me how excited she was to meet a widow who was 9 years into her journey whilst on vacation. It was then that I started to picture the concept of an invisible thread that connects us. That although our situations and journeys through grief are individual, and that there is no set path, or duration, there is a comfort in seeing other people functioning in the world who are further down the road than ourselves and hearing about how they got there.

This thought prompted the start of this project. As a portrait photographer I set out to meet other widows and widowers at many points in their journeys. To have a conversation with them and then work with them to create photographs that, in some way, reflected the conversation we’d had and the experiences they had lived through.

I joined WAY Widowed and Young in January 2022. Prior to that, I had connected to some widows through a cancer charity and through the funeral director I had used. 

I have been surprised by the enthusiasm and number of participants who wanted to be involved after I posted about it within the WAY groups. In meeting those people that I have been able to get to, I have seen stark differences in people’s lives and the variety of other challenges that surround them whilst also dealing with their grief. Everyone’s story is different – but there are some amazing similarities and themes that a lot of the conversations come back to. 

It has been emotionally tough and uplifting at the same time. Everyone I have met has been so welcoming and so generous with their time. Many have made me lunch or given me something to say thank you. In pretty much every meeting I’ve ended up chatting for way longer than planned as if we’re old friends. 

There have been times where I have cried on the way home as I reflect on the conversations we’ve had and how it relates to my own experience, to my life. 

Capturing stories

Usually when I make portraits, I use a lot of lighting and work in a very controlled environment. For this project, though, I have stripped everything back. It’s just me and my camera, working with whatever environment we happen to meet in, trying to capture the result of an authentic encounter without technology getting in the way.

As well as taking portraits, I am working with the participants on the production of still-life images to bring a more collaborative element to the project, to allow them to talk about their spouses more directly. It’s a part of the project I am really looking forward to seeing the results of. 

It is my hope that, when viewing the work, those who are in the same situation may recognise themselves within it, relate to it, and find comfort that they are not alone and feel more able to speak about where they are and how they feel. The hope is that people who maybe aren’t part of a community like WAY recognise themselves in the work and realise they are not alone and that people do find a way through this.

Those who have not had the misfortune to be in this particular situation may also find the work reflective of losses they have experienced, or they may become more understanding of those of us who are grieving, and contemplate how they might deal with or prepare for a similar situation."


Find the stories behind the photos and find out more about Richard's work: