Cemeteries are among my favorite places to visit and photograph. They are full of hints about the lives of the people who are buried there, and in New Mexico many are replete with decorations and symbols of remembrance that lighten the inevitable sadness that accompanies the loss of a loved one.
My recent visit to a local cemetery for this Covid Respite has a long gestation story.
As many of you know, I teach an introduction to digital photography class at the University of New Mexico Continuing Education department. During the pandemic, of course, we've had to move the class online.
In the past, it has been a two-part class of two hours once a week, with a homework assignment in between. But even before the pandemic, I had been toying with the possibility of adding a field trip (live, not virtual) to the course. When the pandemic hit, that idea had to be set aside, but as things began to improve, I was able to restructure the class and include an in-person field trip for a class this spring.
The field trip was to San Carlos Cemetery, a large cemetery not far from Balloon Fiesta Park north of Albuquerque.
It's a classic New Mexico cemetery with a lot of dirt and weeds, poured concrete headstones or simple wooden crosses with names and dates scratched in by hand.
But many of the graves are decorated with flowers and mementos, from elaborate to simple:
And the decorations range from religious/spiritual to quotidian, sometimes on the same plot:
Eight out of the ten students participated in the field trip, including one (and her husband) from Santa Fe and one from Ft. Defiance, AZ, in the Navajo Nation on the border between New Mexico and Arizona (a two and a half hour drive away). That's what I call dedication.
We were there in the early afternoon on a typical New Mexico day: hot, very windy, and mostly cloudless -- not the best conditions for great photographs. But the goal was to give the students an opportunity to practice using their cameras and, with luck, to apply some of the things they had learned in the class. I was there to encourage and consult.
The students made some good images, and it was fun to review them in the follow-up class session and see what they saw. Here are a couple of examples:
|Courtesy of Meredith Kent
One student photographed a statue and I happened to get a picture of her as she was shooting it:
|Courtesy of Kris Monaghan
Besides yielding interesting images, the field trip also serendipitously provided three images to illustrate how point-of-view (POV) can make a big difference in what an image communicates.
Among all the gravestones and decorations, I photographed a very large and colorful statue on one grave:
Here's how two different students photographed her:
|Courtesy of James Padilla
|Courtesy of Leslie Dietz
Note how the POV, as well as the placement of the statue within the frame, communicates something different in each image.
I'll close here with three images that tell a sad but perhaps redemptive story, beginning with the image at the top of this post:
On the cross, it says
July 25, 1945 - July 26, 1945
Nearby is a similar cross, with a similar inscription:
August 30, 1945 - April 6, 1946
And next to that one, another:
Antonette Dianna Duran
June 7, 1947 - June 14, 1947
I'm not sure how these three are related, since Maria and Rosemary appear to be born five weeks apart, while Antonette was born almost a year later. However, an online genealogy shows these three as children of Floran and Maria Duran, and gives Rosemary's birth date as August 30, 1944 (rather than 1945). So it's possible that Rosemary's birth date on the cross is incorrect; if so, the birth dates make more sense:
Rosemary: August 30, 1944 - April 6, 1946
Maria: July 25, 1945 - July 26, 1945
Antonette: June 7, 1947 - June 14, 1947
But whatever terrible circumstances cut these lives so short, I am heartened that today, 75 years later, someone still remembers and cares enough to put flowers on their graves.