“Stone Faces” is a series of photographs of cemetery statuary created over the summer and fall of 2010. The pieces are all personal to me and each one represents someone I have loved and lost. Death has been a recurring theme in my life over the past 18 years, during which time I have lost more than 50 friends and family. Some of the statues show the effects of erosion, which parallels how our memories of loved ones fade over time. I explore the sense of poignancy connected to the idea that the monuments to our loved ones are left standing in a field to weather and crumble. The work intends to convey that while grief can be overwhelming, nothing really lasts forever. When we build monuments, we prolong the pain, as well as the beauty, showing that everything in life and death has a duality.
The inspiration for this portfolio began during a trip to New Orleans. We visited the cemeteries as part of a tour of the city. Burying the dead at sea level in an area that suffers from occasional flooding is not ideal. During floods, the dead have a tendency to pop out of their graves and float through the streets. In order to rectify this horrifying situation, the dead now reside in mausoleums. There are vast cemeteries located right in the heart of New Orleans that feel like cities of the dead. Some are grandiose, others are nothing more than cement box tombs, but they all present a fascinating contrast that mirrors the city in terms of decadence and desecration. Throughout these cities of the dead, you will find residents of stone and concrete. Frozen forever are these angels, saints, and sinners.
I found a multitude of these residents in St. Agnes’ Cemetery in Syracuse. Some are easily recognized religious icons, Jesus, and the saints. Others do not appear to be specific figures, but instead are symbols of religiosity in a more representational way. There is a dichotomy in how they appear to symbolize life in the midst of death. Some of the figures appear to be in the grip of religious abandon while others are the model of piety and yet, there is a grace about all of them that touches me deeply. In this particular series, I address the issue of death as symbolized by the images we associate with it through the figures we place in cemeteries.
During the course of this work, I visited more than 20 local cemeteries. Newer ones contained very few, if any statues. Certain others, including the famous Oakwood Cemetery predominantly contained monolithic pieces rather than figural ones. In future, I plan to expand this portfolio to include statuary from a larger number of cemeteries.
This body of work has another inspiration that relates to it in a more technical way. When we moved back to Syracuse, we lived in a house that had once been a museum of theater memorabilia. The previous owners had left some things in the museum area that we found both fascinating and extremely interesting. One item was a large, home made light made from glass slides. Manufactured by Maurice Workstel, these Workstel E-fect Slides created by Harry Rubin for Publix Theaters, were “Magic Lantern” slides of theaters, taverns, and other public houses. Workstel’s body of work seems to consist of several series of Magic Lantern slides and little else that I could find. Harry Rubin was not well documented either. I thought it would be an interesting idea to recreate the process using modern methods; namely my printer and transparency sheets.
I printed each image on a transparency sheet, and then mounted it with a white background. This creates a dimensional feel and adds to the eerie quality of the images.
My first camera was a hand-me-down Brownie. I can still remember the smell of the film, what the numbers looked like through the red glass window as I shot each image and wound the roll toward the end. It was a revelation to me that I could point that camera, click a button, and freeze a memory in time. It felt powerful, almost God-like. It still feels that way each time I get out my camera.
That first image was my sister sitting on her tricycle, one leg splayed outward, looking up at me with a smile on her face. Sunlight slanted from the west, picking out the texture of the gravel, the shine of the handlebars, and each blade of grass in my grandmother’s driveway. This was magic. In those days, it took as many as three weeks to get your pictures back from the developer. By the time the pictures came back, I had usually forgotten what they were so each time it was like unwrapping a gift at Christmas. I now shoot most of my images in digital form, but I sure do miss that feeling of wonder, the delayed gratification that has been lost in the digital age.