Monday, June 18, 2012

Taking Pictures in a Cemetery

I have been looking at some of the images I have taken in the last few years to see if there are some regular themes in my photography.  One is that I have a lot of pictures taken in cemeteries.  I don't regularly seek out a cemetery in which to take pictures, however when I am in one I do take a lot of photos. 

Around here the two types of cemeteries that I find most interesting are the large park-like cemeteries that started in the 19th century as part of the rural cemeteries movement, and the small, most of the time abandoned country cemeteries.

Jessee Cemetery in southern Champaign Country is a good example of the no longer used country cemetery.  The last burial I can find there is from the 1930's. Probably as transportation improved people began to use the larger cemetery in nearby Villa Grove, IL.

Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur Illinois is a good example of one from the rural Cemeteries era.  There are many mausoleums in which rest the members of Decatur's prominent families.

Greenwood Cemetery is fairly hilly for central Illinois.  Its winding roads and large trees are a characteristic of the rural cemetery ideal.

Greenwood has a lot of ghost stories associated with it. These are the Barrackman Steps, about which there is a story of a weeping woman in a white gown who appears around sunset. Notice I am not above applying effects to cemetery photos. 

The evolution of the cemetery in the US is interesting to me.  Much of what we now know as cemeteries came about as a reaction to the often crowded and poorly maintained urban cemeteries.  Better transportation by the 1830's allowed the idea of having burials out of town in nearby rural areas.  The ideal was to have the cemetery retain as many of the lands natural features as possible.  Hence you have the hills, large trees, and winding roads of a place like Greenwood.

Nelson Cemetery in northern Douglas county is somewhat unusual in that it still has a few burials.  Trees are kinda sparse in the country cemeteries.  I would guess this red cedar has been there since the 19th century.

Often the old cemeteries have features that inspire some creativity.  This is from the fence at Nelson Cemetery.

Another mild creative effort with the Seeber family plot at Saint Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Champaign IL.  The high ground on which this cemetery is placed was once a work site for the construction of the Illinois Central railroad.There are some great old peonies in this cemeteries. Me and a friend have a tradition of going out to see the peonies every year.

So I have taken a lot of pictures in cemeteries. Over the years I have noticed that these tend to be the most unpopular pictures that I post on Flickr.  And at the moment there is only one other person in my personal circle of photographers that takes many pictures in cemeteries.  So I would guess that this is a subject that most picture viewing and picture taking people try to avoid.  I suppose that shouldn't be surprising in a culture that loves youth so much that a lot of people use goofy expressions like a "I am 80 years young".   It is strange to think how less than a hundred years ago cemeteries were a place that people would use like a park.  Sometimes they would go out and spend the day and have a picnic.  The traffic to some of these cemeteries along with the demand for flowers was once so great that many cemeteries had florist shops at their entrance.  I think that may be because while 19th century people were experiencing unprecedented prosperity they were still dying from things like infections as much as people ever were.  I think these park-like cemeteries were a way of becoming more comfortable with the mortality that they were often confronted with. Myself I agree with the previous generations that thought the cemetery could be a beautiful and even peaceful place.  However while I like to take a picture in a cemetery I don't think I will ever have a picnic in one.

Cemetery Gallery

The last picture is not a cemetery picture, however I came across it when doing the images for Nelson Cemetery.  Near Nelson Cemetery is the most intact section of how the original county highways looked in this area.

A one lane piece of concrete road of the type that once connected towns in this area.  The only place around here where you can see one of these roads that has not had another lane added.