Concordia PhD student is recognized for her work on parental grief and photographic remembrance

Women with red hair and arm tattoos, dressed in a black shortsleeved t-shirt.Felicity Tsering Chödron Hamer. | Image courtesy of the artist

The Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC) has named Felicity Tsering Chödron Hamer the winner of the August 2020 Prix Relève étoile Paul-Gérin-Lajoie.

This prize is awarded once a month by the FRQSC, a provincial government fund whose mission is to promote and provide financial support for research in the social sciences, humanities and education.

Hamer, a winner of the Stand-Out Graduate Research Award earlier this year, was recognized for her book Parental Grief and Photographic Remembrance: A Historical Account of Undying Love, published by Emerald Publishing and available at the Concordia Library or on Amazon.

“This award is, first and foremost, an exciting recognition of the talent and impact of Felicity Hamer and her project,” says Michael Verwey, fellowship development advisor at the School of Graduate Studies.

“That being said, it is also a recognition of the supportive research environments, ambitious faculties, innovative departments and pioneering research supervisors that we have at Concordia.”

The rituals needed to ease bereavement

Hamer is currently a candidate in the Communication Studies PhD program, working under the supervision of Jeremy Stolow, associate professor of communication studies.

“I venture to understand the complex ways in which photographic portraits extend our relationships beyond physical death,” she says. “My research focuses on memory and imagination through photography, bereavement and emotional engagement with photographs.”

Parental Grief and Photographic Remembrance looks at how parents have become increasingly unfamiliar with death, as they lack recourse to the rituals and tools that have historically eased the bereavement process.

“In my book, the second in a series entitled ‘Sharing Death Online,’ I consider the challenges unique to those grieving the loss of a child,” she says.

“It includes ideas that will shape the early chapters of my dissertation, ‘Developing Memory: Remembrance, Embellishment, Hauntography,’ wherein I establish and develop the existence of a form of bereavement through photography that I name hauntography. Some mementoes, misplaced or intentionally avoided, can take on a hauntographic presence – retaining an affective charge that echoes the very phantoms they were meant to commemorate.”

Grieving in the time of COVID-19

Hamer’s book was published last February, just as the first cases of COVID-19 were being reported in Quebec.

The circumstances that forced families affected by COVID-19 to grieve via virtual means, often without any traditional rituals to provide closure or comfort, gave her research a newfound and particularly poignant relevance.

“Isolated from others, we are now grieving diminished connections to living individuals. Our elders are passing at an alarming rate and, with them, the stories that narrate family photographs. As loved ones are lost due to COVID-related complications, we grieve, collectively, at a distance,” Hamer notes.

“Our last moments together are increasingly experienced on – and thus connected to – a screen. More than ever there is a need to understand grieving through and in conjunction with photographic portraits.”

Verwey concurs. “In light of COVID-19, conversations about death, our own ability to acknowledge loss and willingness to encourage remembrance are all being thrust into mainstream culture,” he says. “By lending us a historical perspective on some of these bereavement processes, this work by Felicity Hamer is providing important context to facilitate these difficult conversations.”

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