PhotoStory: Working Death

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As cremation rates reach over 60% in the Netherlands most of the Dutch have seen the inside of a crematorium – at least to attend a funeral service. Most of us have been to the public spaces like the reception hall, the catering area and ash-scattering gardens. Some of us have been to the semi-public spaces like the family rooms where close relatives can say their final goodbye.

A crematorium is also the daily workplace of a number of people: the general assistants – who work at the chapel, operate the cremator and hand out the ashes to the bereaved, the catering staff at the restaurant, a location manager, office personnel and accounting, cleaning staff and technical maintenance. There is a rather large behind the scenes area where professionals do their work out of public view.

Behind the ‘no entrance’ signs, a rather unknown world is revealed. A world of impressive hard ware: stainless steel furnaces, the cremulator with its bright orange air filtering system (the DustMaster) but also an advanced studio room that controls lighting, music and video for funeral services. A world of storage rooms: empty and filled ash containers, bins with ortho materials waiting to be collected for recycling and the obvious space for cleaning supplies. It is a well organized world: everything is labelled and there is efficient routing to ensure smooth logistics. Proficient and well-organized they navigate often delicate situations that are always part of dealing with the deceased and the bereaved.

‘Working Death’ is a photo story based on participant observations in a crematorium and on interviews and conversations with the people that work there day in, day out. It is part of a series that wishes to catch the unseen world of the funerary profession.


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