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Thread: photographing cemeteries

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    klamath falls, oregon

    photographing cemeteries

    I follow all the image threads here, including the one on cemeteries. Last night I stopped along the way home from a weekend of recreating with my wife and friends to shoot a small church in the country. The others patiently read magazines for a bit, but when they coudn't take it any longer they started walking and told me to pick them up on the way when I was done.

    I found them a half mile away, stuck wandering in a fascinating country cemetery. The light was exquisite and there were some very interesting headstones, so I made a couple images. I felt a bit conflicted about shooting headstones of people that I knew nothing about other than what I could read there, but the opportunity was too good to resist.

    Today I got to thinking about the fact that I have seen VERY few shots of cemeteries or graves. Even two who I think would be strong candidates for making such images, Wright Morris and David Plowden, don't have shots of cemeteries.

    So here is my question (finally!): Is there some sort of unspoken stigma about shooting cemetaries and/or individual graves? Any thoughts out there?

  2. #2
    Film and Darkroom User
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Middle England

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    None here, shoot away.
    The PPC

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Medicine Hat Alberta

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    If there is I am totally unaware of it as my wife and I have photographed cemeteries for as long as we have done photography ( 30 plus years). Normally when I am photographing in a cemetery the workers just ignore me but have had one tell me about some of the more interesting grave sites and others nod and say hi.

    Spent a very pleasant day at the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague and was totally welcomed by the people there and the Old Jewish Cemetery is loaded with tourists so thing there is nothing wrong with viewing headstones there can be nothing wrong with photographing them.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Northern Virginia

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    Lots of old churches and cemeteries around here, and I've never had any reluctance to photograph either. It isn't as easy a subject as it seems like it ought to be, though.

    Rick "who once made rubbings of headstones for an art class" Denney

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jul 2006

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    I remember being younger, watching an after-show docu on Buffy, and Sarah Michelle Gellar said how uncomfortable she was shooting in graveyards, til she realised they were dead and alone...she was happy to shoot there thinking she wasn't disturbing them, more giving them some company.

    Something like that.

    I took cemetary shots when I first started taking pics but got bored of it very quick. I wasnt obsessed with it and eventually found it cliche.

    That said, if you enjoy it, do it.

  6. #6
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Seattle, Wash.

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    Quote Originally Posted by h2oman View Post
    ...I felt a bit conflicted about shooting headstones of people that I knew nothing about other than what I could read there...
    I think they enjoy our company. But not always, if you believe this incident:

    “What is this ill-mannered tree thinking?” cemetery workers asked. “Does Eternal Rest mean nothing?”

    (Me, I was thinking they had it backwards – it was the dead pushing-aside the tree.)

    In any case, this situation was … well, let’s say “corrected” … and the tree learned a grave lesson in cemetery management. The romance of this scene is no more.

    And the dead – what were they thinking?

    “That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those … of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another.” (Wilder’s Our Town.)

    Tachi 4x5
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  7. #7
    Claudio Santambrogio
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    At home

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    I have not had any trouble shooting, or thinking to shoot cemeteries. But things were rather different on Svalbard, in the high arctic. I came across (I unfortunately had only my digital camera with me at that time) some open graves - there are plenty of those… Skeletons, naked or even dressed in rather well preserved clothes rests, are lying more or less visible and accessible. It was a very strong moment, and the temptation to photograph was very strong. But while I was focusing on the skeleton (lying under the stones covering the grave), a very odd feeling came over me - and I felt like an intruder, like somebody about to take a very private and intimate moment without having a right to do so. I don't really know what it was, some kind of respect, or the humbling feeling of looking at somebody that already was like I will be in several decades… But I shied away, I decided I had no right to take that photograph. I felt like respecting this final rest. All I could take away with me was the shot of the location itself… I can't think of a more beautiful place for the final rest. R.I.P.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Sweet, ID

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    Some cemeteries may chase you out, for instance a cemetary in north Seattle, name starts with a "W." I had to be very covert (and quick) when shooting there. But I do tend to not show the names in the image if I can (using contrast if possible), so I must have some sort of stigma.
    The only trouble with doin' nothing is you can't tell when you get caught up

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Southern California

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    I was going to post a shot I recently took of a civil war vet's grave at Fort Rosecrans NC, but realized I shot it with a MF camera...but I don't believe it's taboo to shoot grave sites, unless you have some religious or spiritual inclination not to.


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    S. Bay Area, CA

    Re: photographing cemeteries

    Regarding cemeteries as a whole, I don't think there is an issue at all.

    Regarding individual graves, I'm sure it is just stating the obvious, but as long as it is done respectfully then I don't think there is a major issue.

    Both my brother & grandfather are buried at Arlington Nat'l Cemetery and I've seriously considered shooting their graves (especially as I don't often have a chance to visit them). If I were to do it (and I hope to some day), I would likely throw the names on surrounding tombstones out of focus. To put it another way... I would ask what the subject of your picture is, and what are you trying to convey? What is the significance of being able to read the names off the tombstones?

    I would throw it out there as a creative challenge to effectively photograph a cemetery in a way that does not capture the names of the deceased unless the names of the deceased are in some way the subject of the photograph. If anyone could do this effectively, it would most assuredly be LF photographers that can control nearly every aspect of the image.

    I'm sure most disagree with me, but thats just my thought.

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