The Grief Gallery:

What the Camera Captures



MAKE IT PRETTY commissioned by Charlene Lam


Charlene Lam, creative grief guide and curator of The Grief Gallery, commissioned product photographer Elena Andronache to capture a selection of her late mother’s belongings.

The first photos I took of my mom’s belongings after she died were highly forensic in nature.

It was 2013. My mother Marilyn — healthy, vibrant and lively — had died suddenly and unexpectedly from a stroke, and we all struggled to understand what happened.
I snapped photos of her house and her things: documenting, gathering evidence. Like the crime scene techs on CSI, Law and Order and all those procedurals I’d watched so often. There was no artistry to those shots. I was merely recording the scene, capturing images to be studied, scrutinized and interpreted later.


A Certain Aesthetic

I sought out a product photographer who could shoot her belongings in a visually appealing way: styled like beauty products, glammed up in the visual language of Instagram. Having been professionally immersed in the world of social media for years, I find the Instagram aesthetic alternately attractive and repulsive, familiar and foreign.


Make It Pretty


Almost 9 years later, my mother’s belongings are still evidence of who she was and how she lived, but they are now something more. They are representations of her, chosen and shared by me. They also speak to my relationship with her, and my interpretation of her life.
For this project, I wanted to capture her things again — this time not as stark evidence, but as pretty pictures. Because my mother loved beauty and her belongings deserve better.


Finding Elena

“I had the great fortune to find Elena Andronache, a Lisbon-based photographer originally from Moldova. She is a skilled product photographer, but beyond that, her own brush with death gave her a deeper perspective on the project than I could have ever anticipated. In 2016, she was diagnosed with leukemia and spent 9 months in the hospital, fighting for her life. Confronted by her own mortality and having witnessed the loss of fellow patients, she has intimate experience with death, grief and recovery. She brought an appreciation and sensitivity to this commission that made it a beautiful collaboration.”

“What do we leave behind? Memories and mementoes. Evidence of who we were.” 

– Charlene Lam, 2021



Charlene Lam

Originally from NYC and currently based in Lisbon, Charlene Lam is an independent curator and creative grief guide. She speaks, writes and presents exhibitions about grief and loss, under the name Grief Grit Grace. Her approach to grief work is very much informed by her background as a journalist, curator, communicator, and certified life coach. 

As curator of The Grief Gallery, she presents activations and exhibitions exploring death and grief during international design events and festivals, including NYCxDESIGN and the London Design Festival. She is particularly interested in the role of art, design and creativity in meaning-making after loss and facilitating narrative development for post-traumatic growth.

Instagram @griefgritgrace


Elena Andronache

Originally from Moldova, Elena Andronache is a Lisbon-based product and lifestyle photographer. She’s the owner of Productony, a photo and video studio that works with like-minded, eco-friendly companies to create stunning images. 


Instagram @productony


Conversation: What the Camera Captures


Wed Nov 17th, 5-5:45pm ET (note new time)

Join artists Lora Appleton and Alexandra Rowley in conversation with curator Charlene Lam of The Grief Gallery about their photography-based projects and the role of creativity in processing their grief and losses. Register: https://bit.ly/grief-nycxdesign2021


Why a grief gallery? Learn More

The Grief Gallery was founded by curator and grief coach Charlene Lam.

Interested in learning more about grief coaching? Get in touch to book a complimentary call.





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