Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Voices in the Cemetery

Many of the images I've photographed remind me of the experience acquiring the image. Sometimes, however, I was so scared that I never got the image!

I like to think that I'm not superstitious. However, I am susceptible to suggestion. One time I travelled to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (NYC) to shoot with my brother. I found the amazing life-sized statue at left (angels are the same size as us, right?) and photographed it. We ended up getting locked in, much to my brother's chagrin, but that's another story! After arriving home and processing the film, I found that somehow the film was grossly overexposed--useless. So I planned another trip a few months later, by myself, just to make photographs of this statue (one of those you see here)!

Not only that, but I scheduled my trip with the intent of being locked in the cemetery! The reason? The lighting is better at dusk. Photographers typically shoot at the edges of the day, in order for the sun to produce as much shadow as possible. Helps to create the illusion of a 3D image.

So I go to Woodlawn on the appointed day, spend a couple hours shooting around the cemetery, find the statue (which I've since titled, "End of Miles"), then hide and wait until the gates are closed (and locked). Having done this before, I didn't see a problem with scaling the 10-foot wrought iron gate to get out. (Also having done this before, I was prepared for the strange looks from passing motorists. I mean, in the North Bronx, I'm sure they thinking, "He's nuts! It's much safer inside the cemetery than out!").

When the setting sun was in the correct position, I made the photographs of the statue you see here. All that remained was to make my way through the cemetery to the front gate, scale it, then have a nice cold one at the Woodlawn el stop across the street.

On my way I stopped to photograph a statue. As I was looking through the viewfinder of my camera to line up the shot, I distinctly saw a long furry ringed tail disappear behind a bush! I left my camera on the tripod and walked over to, and around, the bush. Nothing! No hole, no animal. I could think of only one thing--The Bronx Zoo! What made this even more disturbing, was the deafening quiet of the cemetery.

Victorian Garden Cemeteries like Woodlawn were landscaped by architects in the 1800s with the purpose of maintaining contemplative serenity through floral beauty and silence. While in such an idyllic paradise, you simply cannot see or hear anything--not trains, planes, or automobiles! The silence is very much with you when you know you're the only person locked in the cemetery...

Already rattled from the tail sighting, I packed up my gear and continued (but this time briskly) walking toward the locked entrance gate. As I walked along, I passed a monument that had a statue of a woman with two children at her knee. I read the inscription as I passed--it was something like, "Dedicated to a mother who loved her children." As I said the word 'children' in my mind, there was a loud audible baby's cry! My blood froze as I ran for the gate! That statue is not the one I've included here--this one is simply for illustrative purposes. I was too scared to stop and photograph that one.

I've since discovered that the ransom money dropoff related to the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932 occurred at this very gate!

More info on Lindbergh kidnapping

Sex and the City Cemetery

Sex and death. Freud believed them to be our driving forces, forces that coincide yet conflict. Why does the notion of having sex in a cemetery seem so adventurous yet prohibitive, so titillating yet taboo?

Humans seem to be simultaneously death phobic and sexually driven. Death and desire just seem to go together in our minds. Note, for example, all the sensually carved angels and semi-nude forms that adorn many cemeteries. Whether its the statuary, the solitude, or simply the thrill that motivates people, some like to have sex in cemeteries. Now, I'm not talking about sex in the car while in the cemetery. I'm talking down 'n' dirty, in the grass, on the wolf table, or on the mausoleum steps. I've stumbled upon skindiving couples a few times, and two of my friends who work as cemetery caretakers have had to ask some folks to please apply the brakes! One has had to ask people on numerous occasions to cease their nude photography sessions! Mainly its a respect thing. These are sacred grounds, and besides, visiting mourners certainly don't want to see trysting by the reflecting pool.

As humans, we're as obsessed with death as we are with sex, but in a less open way. The fear of death fascinates us, but we avoid it like, well, the plague. Can the act of having sex in a cemetery somehow privately, subconsciously, help us come to terms with our own mortality? Does getting boned in the boneyard put a more enjoyable face on death, this pleasurable experience? Think back on those sensual cemetery statues, they're more life-affirming than death-centric, aren't they? Sex in a cemetery, then, may reinforce in us a feeling of life, which really was the original intent of the architects of the early garden cemeteries (such cemeteries are almost always associated with cities, thus the title of this blog). The Victorians believed if death is portrayed as beautiful, perhaps it will lose its sting.

That said, if you've ever actually tried to have cemetery sex, you might have noticed that the environs can produce a certain, well, frisson of discomfort. Pleasurable to some, but downright distracting to others, making certain things, well, kind of ... impossible. If you try it, you're sure to see that its not as easy as you might think (from the physical and mental perspective)! This refers to nocturnal adventures, of course, daytime doesn't count. I mean during the day, you only risk getting caught; at night, you risk being eaten by zombies. And with regard to trespassing--let's just say that some people think its easier to get forgiveness than permission!