Funeral photographs hidden for 42 years show a widow's terrible loss and her ...

A widow leans over her late husband's coffin and grabs hold of the calloused hand of a grave digger.

She is dressed all in black; his pants and boots are caked with clay from digging the hole the father of her three children will be buried in.

As family members reach out to support her in this awful moment, the mourning woman cannot stand or speak. 

Oblivious to all but the beloved husband she is about to bury, she is inconsolable with grief. 

This heartbreaking image was captured by an unknown photographer at a burial in Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery in October 1975.

It is one of two dozen black and white photographs which were taken that day then placed in a brown paper envelope for safekeeping and kept hidden for the next 42 years. 

A grieving widow leans over her late husband's coffin and grabs hold of the calloused hand of a grave digger. She is dressed in mourning black, his pants and boots are caked with clay from digging the hole the father of her children will be buried in. As family members reach out to support her in this awful moment, the woman cannot stand or speak. Photographer unknown

A grieving widow leans over her late husband's coffin and grabs hold of the calloused hand of a grave digger. She is dressed in mourning black, his pants and boots are caked with clay from digging the hole the father of her children will be buried in. As family members reach out to support her in this awful moment, the woman cannot stand or speak. Photographer unknown

This heartbreaking image was captured by an unknown photographer at a burial in Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery in the mid 1970s. It is one of two dozen black and white photographs taken that day then placed carefully in a brown paper envelope and kept hidden for the next 42 years. In 2010 the pictures were given to Cherine Fahd by her grandmother, the grieving widow

This heartbreaking image was captured by an unknown photographer at a burial in Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery in the mid 1970s. It is one of two dozen black and white photographs taken that day then placed carefully in a brown paper envelope and kept hidden for the next 42 years. In 2010 the pictures were given to Cherine Fahd by her grandmother, the grieving widow

Cherine Fahd's grandmother (being held by a relative) never discussed the loss of her husband, a grocer killed by a car near the family home at Peakhurst, or the terrible day of his funeral. Fahd, an academic and writer who is director of photography at the University of Technology Sydney, noted that in Western culture it was rare to see people so openly and publicly grieving

Cherine Fahd's grandmother (being held by a relative) never discussed the loss of her husband, a grocer killed by a car near the family home at Peakhurst, or the terrible day of his funeral. Fahd, an academic and writer who is director of photography at the University of Technology Sydney, noted that in Western culture it was rare to see people so openly and publicly grieving

Award-winning artist Cherine Fahd was given these intimate family portraits by her paternal grandmother Laure - the grieving widow - before her death in 2010. 

Her grandmother never discussed the loss of her husband George or the terrible day of his funeral.

George, a 53-year-old grocer, was killed by a car outside the family's business at Peakhurst. He was on his way home after visiting Cherine's parents George and Gilda who lived across the street.

Cherine was 21 months old and her sister was born two weeks after the funeral.

Fahd, now an academic and writer who is director of photography at the University of Technology Sydney, noted it was rare to find such a collection of private pictures of people so openly and publicly grieving. 

Deeply moved by the raw emotion in these almost cinematic images, Fahd spoke to her Lebanese-Australian family before deciding what she should do with them. 

Cherine Fahd's paternal grandmother is overcome by grief in the front pew at her husband's funeral. Moved by the emotion in these cinematic images, Fahd spoke to her Lebanese-Australian family before deciding what she should do with them

Cherine Fahd's paternal grandmother is overcome by grief in the front pew at her husband's funeral. Moved by the emotion in these cinematic images, Fahd spoke to her Lebanese-Australian family before deciding what she should do with them

'I thought with these images they exist so powerfully on their own that any intervention by me would have to be really carefully considered,' Cherine Fahd said of the 24 black and white images taken at her grandfather's funeral and burial

'I thought with these images they exist so powerfully on their own that any intervention by me would have to be really carefully considered,' Cherine Fahd said of the 24 black and white images taken at her grandfather's funeral and burial

'They sat under my bed for seven years before I pulled them out and then I started studying them for a journal article,' Fahd said of the funeral and burial pictures. Her father George, then 26, is pictured in his pinstripe suit kneeling next to the candle

'They sat under my bed for seven years before I pulled them out and then I started studying them for a journal article,' Fahd said of the funeral and burial pictures. Her father George, then 26, is pictured in his pinstripe suit kneeling next to the candle

'I thought with these images they exist so powerfully on their own that any intervention by me would have to be really carefully considered.' 

'They sat under my bed for seven years before I pulled them out and then I started studying them for a journal article,' she said. That article for the Journal of Photography and Culture would run to 10,000 words. 

'They're pretty amazing,' Fahd said of the images. 'They lend themselves to storytelling as well. I've never ever talked about a work to this extent because there is this incredible story, a history, it's just beautiful really.

'And I think from a photographic perspective, because that's my area of study and research, they are also quite rare as photographic documents.'

'They're pretty amazing,' Fahd said of the photographs her grandmother gave her. 'They lend themselves to storytelling as well. I've never ever talked about a work to this extent because there is this incredible story, a history, it's just beautiful really'

'They're pretty amazing,' Fahd said of the photographs her grandmother gave her. 'They lend themselves to storytelling as well. I've never ever talked about a work to this extent because there is this incredible story, a history, it's just beautiful really'

Cherine Fahd noted it was unusual for a funeral and burial to be so carefully photographed for posterity. 'I think from a photographic perspective, because that's my area of study and research, they are also quite rare as photographic documents'

Cherine Fahd noted it was unusual for a funeral and burial to be so carefully photographed for posterity. 'I think from a photographic perspective, because that's my area of study and research, they are also quite rare as photographic documents'

Fahd was intrigued by the dress of her relatives - many of the hard-working family men look more like 1970s mafia bosses and the women's skirts all seem to be the same length. 

Her father George appears at the graveside and at St Joseph's Catholic Church at Riverwood wearing a pinstripe suit bought from the House of Merivale; its flared trousers cover his shoes. 

During her research Fahd became obsessed with the image of her grandmother grasping the grave digger's hand.

'I just think, this guy, he's dug the hole, he's covered in mud, he's got his King Gees on and his work coat. She's toppling and he's holding her hand.'

'He's looking around him at all of these people and I can only imagine what the sound was like. I just thought it's the most incredible act of compassion. Just to hold a stranger's hand. I became obsessed with him.'

Despite all her research one main mystery remains - Fahd has identified all the main mourners but is yet to discover who took the photographs. 

'Dad had said he was a friend of the family but I think very specifically he was a friend of my grandfather's. The longer I sit with them the more I'm inclined to think that they were.' 

One mystery remains: Fahd is yet to discover who took the photographs. 'Dad had said he was a friend of the family but I think very specifically he was a friend of my grandfather's. The longer I sit with them the more I'm inclined to think that they were'

One mystery remains: Fahd is yet to discover who took the photographs. 'Dad had said he was a friend of the family but I think very specifically he was a friend of my grandfather's. The longer I sit with them the more I'm inclined to think that they were'

Fahd said the photographer knew exactly what he was doing. 'The image of the church where they've all come outside and stood outside the church and the coffins being put into the funeral car, he's standing across the road to get that shot'

Fahd said the photographer knew exactly what he was doing. 'The image of the church where they've all come outside and stood outside the church and the coffins being put into the funeral car, he's standing across the road to get that shot'

'Dad and my grandmother are the main characters in those photos so that's the interesting thing that the photographer kind of knew that. His focus is on the two of them.

'The other thing is that they all seem very comfortable with his presence there. For the most part they're not really looking at him. 

'There's one guy that looks at him in nearly every photo - my grandmother's brother. And then there's maybe one or two where you get someone making eye contact with the camera but for the most part he's almost invisible.'

'He absolutely knew what he was doing. He's used a flash, he's composed the image, he's known where to stand. 

'This is someone who is truly passionate about making photographs, and is absolutely aware of the chronological narrative and story.

'Whether he was educated in photography or anything I wouldn't have a clue but he was just absolutely gifted, whoever he was.'

'This is someone who is truly passionate about making photographs, and is absolutely aware of the chronological narrative and story,' Fahd said of the photographer she believes was a family friend. 'He was just absolutely gifted, whoever he was'

'This is someone who is truly passionate about making photographs, and is absolutely aware of the chronological narrative and story,' Fahd said of the photographer she believes was a family friend. 'He was just absolutely gifted, whoever he was'

Fahd's own photographic work is found in local and international institutions including the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria and Museum of Photographic Arts San Diego.

She gathered the funeral photographs for an artwork called Apókryphos that has exhibited at Carriageworks in Sydney and a book of the same name published by M.33 Melbourne. 

The following is an edited version of an essay Fahd wrote which first appeared in The Conversation:  

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