close-up of tombstone, covered in ivy and picture has fallen off

I thought I knew what death looked like

I had a husband once. Our lives were intricately woven together, and then I lost him. To an accidental death, too soon. I lost not just the person I loved, but all that went with that love—the feeling of being deeply known and accepted, the comfort of our routines, the shared memories that became mine alone to carry.

I wondered if there would be an endpoint to our love and my loss? Did I even want there to be an end to this grieving?

As the days turned into years, all I wanted was to integrate the feeling of this profound loss into my life—and create an ongoing connection with the beloved person who died—while also finding a way to continue living beyond my grief. The connection I found was unusual and effective, and it presented a way for me to fill that emptiness:

I visited cemeteries and photographed all that I saw going on inside them to create this body work entitled "I thought I knew what death looked like."

—Nanette Rae Freeman, 2018, Chicago

wider view of same tombstone, in front of tombstone with picture rusted, broken fence with tree growing through it man in yellow shirt under canopy in the rain close-up of cracked picture on tombstone close-up of faded picture on tombstone three tombstones falling over into each other close-up of bent and cracked picture and ivy on tombstone close-up of cracked picture on tombstone close-up of picture on tombstone rusted, bent fence falling into the ground flooded tombstones close-up of missing picture surrounded by Star of David on tombstone close-up of cracked picture on tombstone tombstone that has fallen over cracked picture on tombstone fallen tree in cemetery rusted, bent fence in the grass carved tombstone with a spot of sunlight tombstone in the sunlight tombstone with many rocks on top

This collection is dedicated to Dominique Wilkins, whose loss of her sister taught me to open my eyes much wider than they've ever been open.

three men in memorial shirts around a coffin