Wrenching and beautiful before-and-after-death photos

German photographers Walter Schels and Beate Lakotta have a show of their extraordinary before-and-after-death photos opening on April 9 at the Wellcome Trust in London. The photos are marvellous and wrenching, the difference between flesh animated and the empty vessel gigantic and unmistakable, even when the before-death shot is of someone terribly ill. Life's marvellous and inexplicable.

Rita Schoffler, 62
First portrait: February 17 2004
Rita and her husband had divorced 17 years before she became terminally ill with cancer. But when she was given her death sentence, she realised what she wanted to do: she wanted to speak to him again. It had been so long, and it had been such an acrimonious divorce: she had denied him access to their child, and the wounds ran deep.

Second portrait: May 10 2004
When she called him and told him she was dying, he said he’d come straight over. It had been nearly 20 years since they’d exchanged a word, but he said he’d be there. “I shouldn’t have waited nearly so long to forgive and forget. I’m still fond of him despite everything.” For weeks, all she’d wanted to do was die. But, she said, “now I’d love to be able to participate in life one last time…”

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