A mother who looks on helplessly at her child who cries in pain from colon cancer, to an intimate moment of a dying husband with his grieving wife – these are just some of the vivid images documentary photographer SC Shekar takes, in the hope that it would create more awareness of the need for palliative care.
Shekar who has been taking photographs of end-of-life patients for the past five years, looks in awe at the dedication and selflessness of the Hospis Malaysia nurses and doctors who help make the lives of patients more pleasant.
“I was so impressed that it brought me to tears when I saw them treating patients in their homes. So I thought, if only pictures could actually show the level of commitment that these nurses and doctors bring to their patients, people would be inclined to help and contribute to the cause,” he says.
Shekar, who is critically acclaimed for his architectural photography, is also very well known as a documentary photographer specialising in ethnographic portraiture.
His work around Asia, spanning over 30 years has resulted in the publication of over 27 books, three of which focus on South-East Asia.
His latest book, Grit & Grace – The Grandeur Of Monochrome Malaysia, focuses on capturing Malaysian aerial landscapes, including indigenous communities living within those landscapes, from a helicopter.
Shekar also teaches photography and environmental studies to rural schools using the medium of photography as a means to educate children on the fragility of the environment they live in.
He says he was first approached by Hospis Malaysia chairman Datin Kathleen Chew five years ago to take pictures for the organisation. Following her request, he photographed the patients together with their caregivers and families, as well as the nurses and doctors who work to treat the patients at their homes.
Shekar says he also finds it emotionally challenging to take pictures of people who are at death’s door, as well as their caregivers.
“I used to find it so difficult to photograph these people, not because they didn’t want to be photographed. It was difficult because I was actually thinking about my own father who passed away and my mother who is over 90 years old now, and she is quite ill.
“So I can relate to the suffering that these people are going through, and you know that in a few days or in a few weeks, they will be dead, they will be gone,” he says.
Despite a patient’s bleak outlook, Shekar says he is amazed by the tenacity of the doctors and nurses.
“No matter how I feel when I am photographing, the minute the nurses step in and start to treat the patients – that is very inspirational. You feel that there is this person who is there to help this patient. You can see the patients respond completely differently to the nurses and the doctors,” he says.
Thus, Shekar hopes more people would see his photographs and would not be afraid of dying as it could be a more comfortable process.
“I want people to see these images, I want them to be publicised so that people will actually not look at it (dying) as a taboo thing anymore. “There is nothing wrong about it as everybody in the world is going to die. It doesn’t matter how, you are just going to die one day. So, these people – they have been so kind to allow us to photograph them,” he says.