This assignment came at a rather delicate time for me as I had lost my beloved grandmother in the same month but I’m pleased to say it also helped me to deal with my own feelings of loss and sadness whilst always remembering the tender moments the ‘Queen Bee’ and I shared.
At first I tried to be impartial and stick to the brief then it became apparent to me that I wanted to explore death in pictures so I started calling local Funeral Directors, Crematoriums and Cemeteries around where I live.
Finding somewhere to visit, explore and photograph turned out to be more difficult than I had envisaged but Kingston Crematorium was kind enough to agree to my visiting so long as I was respectful of the place, its ‘residents’ and shared the photos with them.
I began my research by looking into Semiotics, as suggested by Zig (see blog post here). It took me right back to when I worked in advertising. Everything had a meaning, it was meticulously thought through and placed in a certain way or in a certain colour because it had an quasi hidden meaning. Some advertising
It turns out that Semiotics itself (in my humble opinion) can be very open to interpretation. For example, it can relate to the visual language expressed in a painting, a secret message it is trying to convey in an advert or a series of codes that are completely vague to some but obvious to certain communities. Take a photo of an old woman holding a broom, for instance, we all know it is just an old woman with a broom right? But to some she might be a Witch or represent one! See how easy it can be do read something as Semiotics that may not even be there at all?
As I dug deeper into the connection between gravestones and symbolism I came across some very amusing facts, here are some of my favourite:
- In Victorian times cemeteries were often used as picnic areas
- Up until 18th century people were buried in their land and their grave was surrounded by iron bars to prevent them from escaping if they turned into zombies or vampires
- Puritans often had that Skull and Crossbones put on their Headstones. It was a reminder that they had gone to Heaven but if you did not believe as they did you would go to hell. It was called a “Memento Mori” which is Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’.
- Many gravestones face east so the deceased will raise with the sun on their rebirth day
- It is believed that the use of tombstones started so ghosts could be weighed down.
The Test Shots – pls see here
On my first visit I was made to feel welcome and was even blessed with the most gorgeous golden light. I spent a good couple of hours walking the grounds, taking pictures of the tombs and the flowers left by loved ones. There was something sad yet peaceful, beautiful about the place. Reading some of the inscriptions was particularly touching and I was, once again, facing my own demons that day.
I had lost my Nan the previous week and that same week also marked 3yrs since our lovely Hayley passed away shortly after giving birth to her 4th child. She was only 39 yrs old at the time of her passing. After 3 painful years since losing her she was finally laid to rest that same week. It is with a heavy heart that I tell you this… that was a tough week indeed.
There were a handful of photography principles I tried to follow during this shoot, there were:
- Leading Lines – the cemetery grounds was full of paths and narrow lanes making it ideal for capturing leading lines. It also kept with the theme of ‘departure’
- Follow the light – although I am always keen to shoot against the light (I love starbursts, sunbursts and shadows) the beautiful light bathed KCC in the most gorgeous colour. I felt compelled to follow the light and perpetuate that beautify, serene, early morning scene.
- Make the Most Of The Strong Shadows – with the advantage of such great early morning light I was able to photograph images with great shadows. Shooting against the sun was particularly effective when capturing sunburst breaking through the tree branches.
- Close Ups – once inside the chapel I tried to take a few close ups of some objects of great meaning to the setting. For example, the prayer books, the place where the coffins rest during the ceremony and even the discreet button that prompts the curtains to close around the coffin and send the coffin to the level below ready to be placed in the furnace. I also took some close up of the flowers left at the graveyard, they felt so emotional, some had already started to die and it was very much in tune with the place.
- Candid Shots – these were taken by chance when I spotted a hurst arriving for the service. These felt very personal and I did not include them in the final images submitted for the project.
I was happy with my final images and have learned a fair amount about capturing emotions, solitude and sorrow.
This project helped me learn to shoot in conditions I would not shoot otherwise, take candid photos I had never thought of. I practiced both Manual shooting as well as using Aperture Priority (the sun was rising after all and the light was changing rapidly). Preparing the photos for printing was also interesting. I got it wrong a couple of times but recognized where I was going wrong – it was my light-bulb moment!
In terms of Health & Safety it is becoming ‘almost’ second nature to watch out for slippery grounds, make sure plugs, leads, wires are all out of the way. Funnily enough, footwear is also a vital part of Health & Safety, as I found out when shooting on icy roads!
The Submitted Images:
Overall I am pleased with the outcome of this project and will look back fondly on the morning I spent wandering around a cemetery!
Thanks for reading,
P1, P2, P3, P4, D1, D2, D3, M1, M2, M3
- Photography Masterclass by Paul Lowe.