Journal Entry: 27 March 2012
I’ve just returned from spending an hour wandering around the cemetery across the road. It’s not the first time I’ve explored it – my sons and I have spent time there, reading the headstones out loud, wondering about the stories and lives of the people laying there, and using it as a vantage point to look at the swans on a nearby dam.
I chose to visit it again on my own this morning in order to return to a particular gravestone – that of Lothian Littlechild, who died aged 7.
I intended to photograph his ‘resting place’ as a contrast to an image I’d taken of my son, Jake, who is if a similar age. The photo I had taken of Jake was one I hope showed something of the hope and innocence of childhood, a young boy bathed in warm afternoon light, making a wish. Watching my gorgeous boy, feeling so thankful to have him and his twin brother in my life, my appreciation of them somehow reminded me of the emotional response I had first had when I saw Lothian’s grave. My heart sank for his parents, his family, his loved one’s – what a tragedy it must have been. Hope and a future lost.
Anyway, that’s what drew me to the graveyard first thing this morning. I started taking pictures of a number of graves – of beautiful ornately carved tombstones, and simpler more austere memorials. As I did I found myself uncomfortable with the pictures that showed the names of the people – the dead and those left behind (it seemed disrespectful somehow?). So I started framing shots without those details – and started noticing the embellishments, the marks of respect, the displays of love left on and around the graves. The floral displays, some fresh, some decaying, and many plastic or non-perishable were interesting and seemed to tell their own stories of connection. The lack of these elements, and general disintegration of graves tells a story too.
I became excited – here was something I could explore further through photography. I’ve always found cemeteries fascinating – they’re often places one can find extraordinary beauty – full of craftsmanship, texture, signs of age and dilapidation. These ‘love tokens’ within that environment could be a really interesting focus, and achievable to photograph as there are multiple cemeteries nearby.
The work of Bernd and Hiller Becher and their series on water tanks intrigues me in relation to this. Their multiple images, it seems to me, should make inanimate engineered objects seem cold and concrete. But when I looked at them in series I found myself thinking how obviously human made they were – the physical differences between them, the differing aesthetics that went beyond their obvious function spoke of the involvement of a range of people.
I think the inanimate objects by graves, photographed as a series could do the same – they are lifeless yet speak of the aliveness of the people who left them there – and they’re each unique though perhaps similar in many ways. The Becher’s images were shot in identical lighting circumstances and from the same angle in relation to their subject – I don’t think that’s suitable or appropriate for this subject matter, though I shall explore it further I think.
I’ve been getting a bit overwhelmed of late about how to take photo’s which communicated a ‘message’ – it’s become almost too daunting to get started. The topics I’m passionate about (such as our general disconnection from where our food comes from, especially in relation to meat, and consumerism, and contempt for our natural surroundings in preference to self interest), and want to talk about, I’ve not been able to work out how to express visually without them seeming too contrived.
I feel like a kid in a lolly shop without the right money! Lots of ideas and things I want to do – just not sure I have the skill or where with all to execute it…. but this cemetery idea is worth exploring…