Saturday, February 03, 2007

Remembering the dead

On my way home from dropping the kids off at a playdate last week, I took a few minutes to stop in a church graveyard. It's the same place where I snapped off this image last December, and the contrast in tone was stunning. The last time I was here, the place was bathed in the warm orange glow of a setting sun. This time, I was there on a bitterly cold, snowy and gray afternoon. I had no agenda beyond briefly walking around the place and looking for something to inspire my eye. It didn't take long to find two scenes worth remembering.


Flowers on a headstone
Arva, Ontario, January 2007 [Click both images to embiggen]

It's obvious that these flowers aren't real. But that does little to hide the contrast between the gray-white monotony of the graveyard and the flash of color atop this headstone. As soon as I saw this bouquet, I wondered who left it there, and when. I wondered about the life story of the person being remembered. And the feeling that here behind a silent church on a winter's day, all these souls seemed to have been forgotten.


Tomb of the unknown...
Arva, Ontario, January 2007

An ancient-looking headstone stands guard over the others. The lettering on all the graves faced away from me, and from my vantage point on the pathway surrounding the site, I felt it would be disrespectful to proceed further (of course, one could always say I was being disrespectful in the first place by simply being on the periphery, but a photographer has to walk a fine line, and I felt I had gone far enough.)

So I shot from the back and hoped the forlorn shapes and forms would effectively evoke the feeling of this timeless place. After I captured this image, I tucked the camera back into my coat, buried my now-frozen hands in my pockets and headed back to the car. I wondered how long it would be before I'd feel compelled to return.

Your turn: Would you shoot in a graveyard? Does it push the moral bounds?

13 comments:

raehan said...

I think taking photos of graveyard is lovely and helps remember the dead.

I used to love to walk in graveyards.

Nice photos.

Sandy said...

As teens my friends and I became quite 'amused' by the cemetary located at the end of the street aptly named "Memory Lane." We have photos of us standing before the gates one night. Feeling it wrong to stand there just for giggles, we went in and made "friends" with some of the residents. A few headstones bore small cameos of the deceased. It still touches me how much you can piece together by a few etched words and a photo.

Carmi, the beauty of images is that each one can tell a story if you look with your heart and not just your eyes. These images you've shared invite stories to be told - even if they're just the ones we create ourselves to fill in the missing pieces.

Begered said...

I think it's perfectly fine to shoot photos of graves. Especially when you do it as good as you have! Great photos, very peaceful.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I would definitely would take pictures in a graveyard, and have! I don't think it is crossing any line unless you are intruding on someones funeral or a person having a private moment with their loved one....
I LOVE these pictures Carmi...

Thanks so much for visit and your comment. It means a great deal to me, my dear....
I just posted some pictures of my Budding Amaryllis...Gorgeous blossoms to be! If you get a chance....

surcie said...

My first impression? Brrrrr! That looks so cold.

When I was in college, we played hide-n-seek in a graveyard at night a few times. Now THAT is irreverent. But I wouldn't call it offensive.

The photos are lovely, Carmi.

Catherine said...

I have certainly taken photos in graveyards, and don't feel uncomfortable about it on the whole. It feels like honouring the dead to me. I would try and avoid walking over actual graves. In some of the old graveyards, this is difficult as there may be no markers. My greatgrandfather's grave is like that - I was only able to find out the approximate area of his burial, but all the wooden fences and grave markers were destroyed by fire.
Years back I went to a university where there was a small cemetery right by the student union building with the cafeterias etc. We used to have our lunch on top of the graves (they were very old ones). I feel a little uncomfortable about that now. There is a poem about it on my blog, in the December archives.
Here from Michele's

Jennifer said...

I've taken pictures before at the gorgeous Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. I have no regrets...it was so beautiful and peaceful, yet creepy at the same time. I never thought about respect...or not. Will have to think on that one some more :)

Biff Spiffy said...

Nice photos, cool site! First time here via Michele, and glad I found ye.

I have no problem with photos in cemeteries; I believe that all of our rituals and traditions are for the living, not the dead. The dead don't care what you do with their grave. Although, after Surcie's comment, I was reminded that we used to 'go parking' in one graveyard, and I'm not so sure that was very respectful...

srp said...

I agree with raehan, it is a lovely thing to see the history, the lives documented in a graveyard. I have pictures of the graves at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg and of Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, MS. In Mississippi, the history class at the Math and Science high school mapped out a walking tour of the historic graveyard for the Pilgrimage. Each year there is a tour of antebellum homes and churches in the area as well. The graveyard tour is conducted by the students. Persons buried along the path at different spots are chosen and their lives researched. The students prepare a monologue telling the listener about their lives and each presents it in the first person; they become the person. At dusk groups of visitors wind their way through the graveyard, serenaded by soft music of the period here and there and at each stop listen to the history of a time, of their town. It is always wonderful, informative, touching and done with much respect; these "Tales from the Crypt". So yes, to pictures and an even bigger yes, to learning about those who have gone before.

Anna said...

There is a real peacefulness about graveyards. I think these are both wonderful shots. The bottom one really speaks to me as to how time passes and life moves on...almost as if things have been erased.

Very thoughtful Carmi....

Nancy said...

Thanks for coming by my blog. I have tried to comment several times this week and blogger was always wiggin'.

I would take a photo in a cemetary. These places have an energy all their own, that speaks deeply to me. And, your photos capture those feelings.

Nana said...

There's an old graveyard near where I used to go for my post radiation check-ups. I used to walk there after my appointments and just walk around. It wasn't completely abandoned -- there was a grave from a person who had passed in the early 50's that often had flowers on it -- but most of the graves were from the late 1800's. Anyway, it was peaceful, with evergreens you could tell had been planted on some of the graves, and groundhog tunnels dug beneath some of the tombstones. One day when I headed there I could tell something looked different and my heart sank. When I got there my fears were confirmed. Someone, the city probably, had "fixed" it up. The leaning tombstones had been moved into nice neat rows (I doubt the remains they marked were moved), most of the evergreens and several huge old, old trees cut down, and the land bulldozed even. I sat down on the ground and cried.

Anyway. We have one of the few cultures who don't interact with the dead and their final resting places (though as I recall the Victorians picnicked and such in cemetaries). So no, I don't think you were being disrespectful.

Barry Pike said...

Great shots.

I don't think it is in the slightest bit disrespectful if the photog/artist's attitude isn't disrespectful.

The people whose bodies are buried in that cemetary are far, far away. If it were me, I'm certain I wouldn't mind in the slightest.