Celebrating my daughter’s life and confronting her death through photography and a camera lens
“Nothing prepares you for becoming a father. There is no rule book. You just hope that you will learn as you go along and do a good job. Of course I had my camera with me always and I took the first picture of Becs, even before her mother had seen her. I remember being terrified when they handed her over to me. I was afraid because I had never held a baby before and didn’t know how to hold a baby. That was the start of the most beautiful 15 year life and journey with my girl, Rebecca.”
Throughout his career, Darrin Zammit Lupi has won a number of photography awards. The last one, which is among the most prestigious, was after Rebecca’s death, the Yannis Behrakis International Photojournalism Award for 2021. The closeness between father and daughter is clearly intertwined within his photography. Darrin says he took thousands of photos of her but made it a point that the photos did not replace his own time spent with her. He wanted to enjoy her. He followed her closely even her love of dance.
The work of a photographer-journalist requires long hours, sometimes away from home. How did he live this reality as a father?
“I was always there for the things that were very important to her growing up, like school concerts. I used to make sure to take vacation leave so that work wouldn’t interfere with that.”
He mentions that once he was not in Malta on his birthday. Four months later, he found out that his daughter did not like it. He was showing Archbishop Charles Scicluna a collection of photographs in an exhibition he uploaded and pointed out a particular photograph he had taken on a rescue mission of several immigrants.
“I told him that this was one of my best birthdays because I had spent it helping save people. And behind us Becca burst into tears and we couldn’t understand why and I remember Archbishop Scicluna went up to her, hugged her and started asking her what happened. “She said she was annoyed that it was the best birthday for me, when I didn’t spend it with her. As you can see this episode still has an effect on me to this day.”
About six months after learning that Rebecca had bone cancer, a pandemic broke out … and Darrin and Marisa spent all their time at the hospital and they had to decide which one would stay with her. They had to split up at a time when they needed each other the most.
“One day we were informed that from that night we would have to choose. I remember I was working and I left my assignment and went to the hospital and spent as much time as I could with her. Marisa ran home to pack her things for a long time. That evening I left and didn’t see my daughter again for 7 or 8 weeks. ”
From London, Reuters editors suggested Darrin use photography to document what his daughter was going through, primarily her suffering.
“For me documenting all of this was very hard especially towards the end seeing her go through all that suffering. There were times where I didn’t take photos. I couldn’t. And there were times that I specifically didn’t want to. She understood my need to keep taking photos. There was only one time she told said “Dad please don’t take a photo now. It has always been very important for me to take photos in a way that observes her dignity. ”
Darrin told us that he still hoped Rebecca would recover, so much so that he was planning their next holiday together.
“I was still planning all this in my mind while my wife was planning her funeral because she knew there was no hope. It was only about 5 weeks before she died that I asked how much time was left. I was told she had 4 to 6 weeks left. It was the end of the world. Time was torture. 5 months and a whole life ahead of me. There is no saying how long that will be. ”
At the age of 15, Rebecca passed away on January 3. The photo her father chose to post on Facebook to announce the news that their daughter had died was taken a few years ago at Mellieha bay. It shows Rebecca jumping and free. He told us that he chose this photo with the words ‘fly high angel’ because it showed the beauty of her face and really looks like she is flying. Darrin wants Rebecca to be remembered for her resilience.
“She never despaired even when things were at their worst. And she certainly cried, but she kept fighting and hoping against all hope.”