Or the Quiet Art of Balancing in the Present
Mist is a must. Overcast skies and low cloud are good. A little rain as well, but light.
And speaking of light, the one I want is that nebulous light, where shadows are filled, the light that fills shadows softly, the light you get at sea.
Autumn. By far the best season, though autumn in the Antipodes, with its trees ever green, is notional. Thankfully, where I’m bound, the trees of faraway home have been planted as well. Because that’s where I’m headed. To see those who have gone home.
Cemeteries are often very beautiful places, especially if Time has had time there as well, to leave traces of its passage. And Nature loves a cemetery, Nature seeks to cover those stones in lichen, to send roots down deep, to bury the buried in leaves.
The Romantics projected melancholy upon Nature’s canvas. In a cemetery, the melancholy is part of the landscape, patiently accumulated by the grace of that very thing we cannot escape: time.
The human race has never been very good about dealing with the inevitability of death, witness the enormous place it occupies in story and myth, in psychology and ritual, in secular and pious thought, certainly because none of the solutions offered is entirely satisfactory, or enduringly so.
Pyramid and potter’s field, necropolis and tumulus, catacomb and columbarium, we busily burrow into the ancient ones – or pay to visit them – and pay dutiful respect in those where we will one day go ourselves.
But don’t worry, no lengthy discourse on all that, it’s a subject that’s been done to death by earnest philosophers, ennui is detailed in every good dictionary, and Ozymandias doesn’t need any more lone and level sands or the Raven more to quoth, at least from me. I only visit cemeteries because they are so beautiful.
They contain a somber beauty, as do all silently decaying monuments. Lichen transforms a crucified Christ into a Green Man. Plastic bouquets weather and fade into pastel studies, broken cherubs lie, still in flight where they have fallen, a stone angel steadfastly leans, parallel to the slanting rain.
Nor can you rush through a cemetery, decorum hobbles your stride, fills it with patches around which you must tread carefully; it offers chance angles and sudden juxtapositions, a geometry of regret and an ostentation of impermanence. But most of all, I’m trying to photograph the stillness.
For several reasons. Because the immediate nature of the photo is simultaneously a negation of time as well as a complete acquiescence to the tyranny of the instant escaped forever, an eidolon of pixels.
Because of the relinquishment of things derelict, which is the true tribute to mortality. But mostly because pictures speak, with their slim silver tongues, quite eloquently for themselves.
All photos taken in Karori cemetery, near Wellington.
Special thanks to Ann Carling.