Few experiences are likely to affect us as profoundly as an encounter with death. Yet most deaths occur almost covertly, at one remove from our everyday lives. 

Death and dying are arguably our last taboos – the topics our society finds most difficult. We certainly fear them more than our ancestors did. Opportunities to learn more about them are rare indeed.

This exhibition features people whose lives are coming to an end. It explores the experiences, hopes and fears of the terminally ill. All of them agreed to be photographed shortly before and immediately after death.

The majority of the subjects portrayed spent their last days in hospices. All those who come to such places realise that their lives are drawing to a close. They know there is not much time left to settle their personal affairs. Yet hardly anyone here is devoid of hope: they hope for a few more days; they hope that a dignified death awaits them or that death will not be the end of everything.

The photographer Walter Schels and the journalist Beate Lakotta spent over a year preparing this exhibition in hospices in northern Germany. They made portraits of 26 people who were very close to death. The exhibition articulates the experiences, hopes and fears of the dying, and gives them one more opportunity to be heard.

Photographs: Walter Schels
Born in 1936, and living in Hamburg, Germany, Walter Schels is best known for his photographic character studies.

Text: Beate Lakotta
Beate Lakotta, born in 1965, is an editor of the science section of Der Spiegel news magazine. She lives in Hamburg, Germany.

You can see and hear the authors talk about this project in an excellent 9-1/2 minute video interview.

Noch mal leben vor dem Tod

by Beate Lakotta and Walter Schels
Hardcover, 224 pages
DVA Dt.Verlags-Anstalt (September 1, 2004)
10.8 x 8.7 inches
ISBN-13: 978-3421058379

Buy on Amazon
A beautifully printed book including many more photographs from this series is available at the moment only with a German-language text.