Friday, July 23, 2010

In memoriam

click photo to enlarge
The rules regarding what is permissible in terms of a gravestone or other graveyard memorial seem to differ from church to church and cemetery to cemetery. When one looks at the earliest English churchyard
gravestones of the seventeenth and eighteenth century what strikes the observer is that the same decorative motifs, imagery, scripts, language and verses, or slight variations on them, tend to prevail. Some lean towards the macabre in their depiction of skulls and bones, others to the homely with their podgy putti. They are, in the main, sober memorials with nothing to which the average parishioner, or vicar, could take exception. Because the language follows widely used polite conventions they have a formal air. Only the odd humorous or idiosyncratic verse breaks through this civil veneer.

In the nineteenth century formality is, if anything, increased. The mechanical looking script, boldly carved urns, bibles, doves, ivy and flowers, ritual descriptions - "Fell asleep", "Carried Away" - and the full names of the departed, describe a society that took the recording of the particulars of the deceased very seriously. However, during the twentieth century a lighter note starts to creep in, with occupations and hobbies commonly mentioned through inscriptions and pictures, shortened names - "Bert" instead of "Albert" - and children's terms to describe family relationships - "Grandad" rather than "Grandfather". Some vicars and parishes took a stand against this increasing familiarity: shortened names, nicknames, etc were prohibited. Others specified that particular types of bright marble were forbidden lest they clash with the gravestones made of local stone, and in places the green or white glassy chips piled in the centre of graves were banned. I often see churchyard signs saying that artificial flowers must not be placed on graves, natural blooms being deemed environmental and more suitable.

No such prohibitions seemed to be in place in the Lincolnshire churchyard where I took today's photograph. This particular memorial was made of the whitest marble filled with green glass chippings Standing on them was an urn, an additional tribute from grandchildren, that described the deceased as "Grandad" and "Nan" ( a shortening of a truncation!) Moreover, in the urn was a bunch of faded artificial roses and carnations. I'm not one for applying too many photographic "effects" to the images I produce, but the faded nature of the flowers on this grave caused me to try fading them a little more and adding a touch of brown across the whole image. I quite like the result. It reminds me of an old postcard that is losing its colour.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 17mm (34mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On