EndLine: Deathcare Workers & the Covid Crisis
Endline emerged out of a collaboration between researchers (Hannah Gould, Samuel Holleran) from the DeathTech Research Team at the University of Melbourne and Bri Hammond, a documentary photographer based in Melbourne. The project seeks to capture the lived experiences of deathcare professionals working in Victoria during the Covid-19 pandemic, using documentary photography, interviews, and participant observation. The team is currently developing an exhibition, catalogue, and program of events in order to share this ‘backstage’ world of deathcare workers with as broad a public audience as possible.
End Line pays tribute to the people who work in Australia’s deathcare sector, from palliative care nurses and funeral directors, to morticians, crematoria operators, and cemetery staff. The public exhibition will take the audience into the ‘backstage’ of deathcare, a sector that is mostly hidden from public view and is often stigmatised. In intimate portraits and in the small details of working environments, the photographs reveal death work to be an essential service and a practice of care, not only for the dying and dead, but also for the bereaved and the wider community. Theoretically, the project investigates the (in)visibility of labour involved in caring for the dead body within contemporary Australia. The research team, in collaboration with a professional photographer, has conducted portraiture photography sessions, undertaken fieldwork at funerals during lockdown, and interviewed key figures in the Australian deathcare sector. The resulting collection of stories and images powerfully communicates both the professionalism and tenderness of those who handle the dead, provoking the kind of big questions about life, death, ritual, and care that anthropology has been so skilled at answering.
The judges considered this an excellent project - timely, original, and political in both a nuanced and intimate sense. A public photography exhibition is an innovative way of getting people to think about the multi-modal ways in which anthropology is practiced beyond the text. The focus on “backstage” deathcare practices also helps demonstrate the ways in which anthropological approaches can shed light on the facets of crisis sometimes obscured in mainstream media platforms.
Endline has been awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant of AUD$1,250 to support some of the public-facing outcomes for this project, namely the development of a public program of talks and events and the production of an exhibition catalogue.
For a sneak preview see www.endlineproject.com