“Well-dying”, or “death with dignity”, is originally a medical term that refers to allowing terminally-ill patients to end their treatment. The term has now expanded to having a happy life along with the harmony of physical, mental health. It carries an important message that death isn’t merely a negative or a taboo subject to discuss, it is a reminder to live a more meaningful life. While many young adults are struggling to fit in society and blindly chasing goals that they are not passionate about, this social phenomenon has gained huge popularity among them as they started to realize the true meaning of life. Among them, some have taken their funeral portrait to capture the moment they want to be remembered as and also while doing it, to fully appreciate life.
One of the huge influences on the trend of taking funeral portraits is Hongsaan, who is a young photographer who takes funeral portrait pictures. Hong also makes people write their will before taking the pictures, to allow them to deeply engage in the process. Social media blew up with Hong’s project of taking funeral portraits, which started in April. It is commonly thought that only the elderly take their funeral portraits. However, it turns out the majority of people coming to Hong’s studio are young adults. When Hong was just 20 years old, one of her friends passed away unexpectedly. Her grief and sadness, however, gradually disappeared as she got busy with her repetitive life. Every time those emotions would fade away, Hong reminded herself of the possibility of her own death, thinking what she would do if she died tomorrow. Hong decided to do something meaningful and selffulfilling every day, which eventually led her to start her funeral portrait project.
At first, Hong thought that the people who came to take their funeral photos would all simply smile. However, some expressed their gloomy face. She realized that she was mistaken about the notion of well-dying.
“At that time, I only expected a big smile from people preparing for well-dying,” Hong said. “But after meeting several people who made sad or blank impressions, I realized that they were not failing to die well, but embracing their true emotions. I realized that well-dying is also about accepting our own vulnerability and loving ourselves at the weakest. So, I usually let people express whatever they wish and that really makes the whole process meaningful.”
Hong has also encountered people who lacked self-confidence. At times like that, Hong encouraged them to be confident about their smiles and insecurities. She would always tell them that there is no such thing as an ugly smile.
“I guess the reason why some people feel awkward smiling or freely expressing their emotions is because we usually don’t have much time to reflect on ourselves,” Hong explained. “In our society, we mostly focus on what others think of us. So, we naturally lose the opportunity to think about our feelings or how we look when we are happy or depressed. That’s why I try to encourage people to be more confident and self-loving because it’s something that everyone deserves.”
Hong hopes to continue her project until the day people become comfortable and open to talking about death. She wishes that people live their lives to their fullest and be able to accept death.
“I think dying well is equally important to living well and the idea of death gives people motivation to really live their lives,” Hong said. “The project hopes to help people prepare for their death and motivate people to do what makes them happy.”