“We Are Alive”

While it may seem otherwise, my series “As We Are Now” is really about life rather than death. (If it was about death per se, it would more fittingly be called “So We Must Be.”) As I’ve noted before, this series is exploring questions like: What does today’s cemetery folk art tell future generations about us? What does that tell us about ourselves? And how do we deal with the mystery of Life and Death today?

Still, if you spend much time looking at gravestones in a cemetery, it’s impossible to not think about the people buried there. Not just who they were when they were alive, but who and where they might be now. There are wide-ranging points of view about what happens after death, including whether there is an afterlife and, if so, what that afterlife might be like. These thoughts can eventually lead to questions about the matter of visiting cemeteries in general – another issue about which there may be wide-ranging points of view.

Some people may view cemetery visits as “disturbing the dead” while others may view cemeteries as peaceful places to visit, pay respects to the dead, and even use for recreation. Rural cemeteries were actually precursors of public parks, offering open space that was welcomed in increasingly urban areas:

The “rural” cemeteries laid out by horticulturists in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York in the 1830s were romantic pastoral landscapes of the picturesque type. Planned as serene and spacious grounds where the combination of nature and monuments would be spiritually uplifting, they came to be looked on as public parks, places of respite and recreation acclaimed for their beauty and usefulness to society.

Personally, I have come to approach the graves I visit as a portrait photographer. I try to shut out my own thoughts and biases and respectfully attempt to capture something of the nature of those I’m photographing. While the series theme may be “as we are now,” I believe the best way I can address that theme is by letting my subjects speak for themselves.

With this in mind, I recently happened to hear the following song by Bruce Springsteen while driving between cemeteries in Vermont to scout out possible future photo subjects. I think it’s an excellent complement for this series.

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