“Last Rites” by Nancy Siesel at Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home

The Brooklyn Paper
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You might think a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer would have no trouble finding a gallery to host her art. But when former New York Times staffer Nancy Siesel realized that there wasn’t a trendy art space in DUMBO willing to provide a venue for her latest subject — the dead — she found her pictures another, better home: a funeral home.

“I didn’t set out to have it at a funeral home,” said Siesel. “But in retrospect, it’s more appropriate.”

In 2005, Siesel concluded a successful 13-year run as a staff photographer with the Times — during which time she a won a Pulitzer covering the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. The move has allowed her to focus on more artistic photographic endeavors, such as her upcoming show, “Last Rites.” Through the frame of her lens, it explores the similarities different cultures share in how they treat their dead.

“I was fascinated about the similarities in Jewish and Islamic rituals surrounding death,” said Siesel. “In terms of Judaism and Islam, people are always talking and fighting over the differences, but I thought it would be great to simply illustrate what they had in common.”

The project was funded by a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council, which withholds a portion of the funds until the artist can find venue to exhibit their work.

Siesel, a 17-year resident of Park slope, scoured Brooklyn for a gallery to host her show, but none of the art spaces were willing to take a walk-in off the streets — even one with a Pulitzer in her hands.

As it turns out, it helps to know a few people in the art scene in order to organize a show. And while a long and fruitful career with a major newspaper has its perks, making contacts in the gallery world isn’t necessarily one of them.

“I come from a photojournalist background,” said Siesel. “You don’t apply for a lot of grants working 13 years for the Times.”

Fortunately, Siesel got talking with a funeral director at an “event” she was covering for the project, and soon she was smitten by the suitability of the Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home in Prospect Heights as a venue for her pictures.

“I hit on this idea of having it in a funeral home,” said Siesel, “and I haven’t looked back.”

“Last Rites” at the Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home [1084 Pacific St. between Classon and Franklin avenues in Prospect Heights, (718) 230-3812] Opens Nov. 22 at 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 10:16 pm, July 9, 2018
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