Sunday, February 10, 2019

"Chicago Eternal" Book Review

About twenty years ago I discovered a book that got me so interested in cemetery monuments and cemetery photography that my new endeavor quickly became an all-consuming passion. The book, "Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity," by writer and photographer Douglas Keister, was an epiphany for me. It really got me interested in the art of the Victorian cemetery. It is a wonderful coffee table book full of fascinating photographs and interesting prose. Honestly, until Larry Broutman's "Chicago Eternal" was published in 2018, Keister's had no equal. I have read, and own, scores of cemetery books and I must say that Broutman has pushed this art form to a new level. I am excited to present to you my review of this wonderful book.

From the publisher, Everything Goes Media, LLC:

“In Chicago Eternal, the Windy City’s rich history springs to life through illuminating photographs of gravestones and monuments. This full-color, hardcover book explores thirty-two Chicago cemeteries, shedding light on the famous, notorious, and long-forgotten. Each image is accompanied by text detailing the deceased’s cultural contributions. Chicago Eternal is a must have for professional and hobby genealogists, tombstone tourists, history buffs, and photography lovers. All author proceeds are donated to the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled and Access Living.”

3D image from Chicago Eternal
Chicago Eternal is grandiose venture, a true labor of love. It is about memory, respect, and the way we choose to mark the lives of those who have gone before us. It is a coffee table book in a very literal sense – it is so large, it could almost double as the coffee table itself! Measuring 9x13 inches and 1.25 inches thick, this is a serious and weighty tome. True, size isn't everything. Happily, Broutman's book has much more to offer – wonderfully composed images, insightful text, celebrity graves, exhaustive coverage of all of Chicago's  major burial spots, and .... 3D glasses. Yes, those blue-and-red lensed glasses, to be used to view the fifteen 3D images of grave markers in the final chapter of the book! What a wonderfully clever surprise!

My daughter enjoying 3D glasses
About the Photography
As a photographer, I realize that it is challenging to make an artistic, aesthetically pleasing photo of a cemetery monument. Most such images are either clich├ęd or what I call "snap shoddy," a snap shot that really is nothing more than a post card photo at best. So I may hold up cemetery photography books to a more rigorous standard than do most people ‒ the photos have to do more for me than provide documentation. The funerary architecture and stunning Victorian-era mourning art sculpture in Chicago’s cemeteries are worthy of documentation for sure, partly because time and the elements wear down these unique objets d'art. I am happy to say that the majority of Broutman’s intriguing images are successful photographs themselves, while providing visual accompaniment to the text. As my tastes run more toward black and white photographs, color work has to really stand out to get my attention ‒ and these images stand out.


Why do Broutman’s images stand out, you may ask. Well, for me two of the most appealing atmospheric conditions under which to photograph cemetery statuary are in the snow, and under cloudy skies before a storm. Oddly, many of Broutman’s images were made under just these conditions. To my eye, this makes the subject ‒ the architecture and statuary ‒ that much more interesting. Shooting under these conditions is unusual. I would like to know what kind of cameras Broutman uses, how he made some of these images, and WHY he chose to make many of the photographs while there was snow on the ground (I assume the winters are longer in Chicago, so he may not have had a choice!). I would think a short essay explaining such technicalities would have been enjoyable to read. His discerning use of depth of field and limited use of HDR make the images quite pleasing to the eye. Possibly because the color images are so striking and the print quality so high, the few black and white images in the book seem to have less punch. It’s unusual for me to say such a thing, because I do prefer black and white to color.


Celebrity
Like many people, I am intrigued by celebrities. Visiting the Chicago grave of Howlin’ Wolf or Jesse Owens makes us feel closer to the person, physically, than we ever could have in real life. Visiting Al Capone’s or ‘Big Jim’ Colosimo’s grave is certainly safer than it would have been to visit the actual people when they were alive! Many of the people in Broutman's book were players in Chicago’s colorful past, people we learned about in history books, such as Mayor Daley, Jack Ruby, and Detective Allan Pinkerton. Standing at their graves makes history more tangible. Broutman provides informational text and supplemental historic photographs to flesh out his stories, making them that much more interesting. Who knew that Oscar Mayer (buried in Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery) patented sliced bacon?

Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago

Never having been to Chicago, there is the mystique of novelty here, for me. My guess, though, is that even if you HAVE been to these Chicago area cemeteries, you will get even more from Broutman’s book than I have. Such nationally historic events are marked in Chicago’s grand graveyards, for example, the Showmen’s Rest railway disaster at Woodlawn, the Haymarket Riot in Forest Home, and the Irving Park graves of the victims of 1929’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Broutman puts flesh on the bone with his images and text, bringing history to life in ways that a simple history book cannot. It was truly inspiring to see the grave of Emma Goldman (Forest Home Cemetery), the Jewish political activist whose memorial bears the engraving, “Liberty will not descend to a people, a people must raise themselves to liberty.”


On a lighter note, it was a treat for me to see and read about the actual grave markers that graphic artist Scott Larson brings to life (literally) in his indie comic book series Visitations. In Larson’s world ‒ a steampunk version of Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century ‒ very specific cemetery monuments come alive to protect the living. One of his characters, “Piper Boy,” is seen below in Broutman’s 3D photograph. (Read more about Larson’s work here.)

Grave of Christopher Manual, 3D image from Chicago Eternal

The design and layout of Chicago Eternal are simply stunning. The front and back covers do what covers are supposed to do – make you want to buy the book! If you are so inclined, the publisher has graciously offered a discount code to readers of The Cemetery Traveler:

Your exclusive coupon code is CEMTOURS10 which will give readers $10 off at Everything Goes Media (https://www.everythinggoesmedia.com/product-page/chicago-eternal)

One of the things I enjoy most about Chicago Eternal is the fact that it rekindled my interest in exploring cemeteries. Not that it has waned, exactly, but after twenty years, you think you’ve seen it all. Broutman reminds us that there is a unique person’s life behind every gravestone ‒ a life worth learning about, in many cases. He also put ideas into my head for making photographs. I learn from other photographers’ work, and Broutman shows us that even a documentary photograph can be artistic. Like the book I discovered twenty years ago that got me so interested in cemetery monuments and cemetery photography, Chicago Eternal will likely become a similar catalyst for a new generation of photographers.  

Acknowledgement
Photographs in this article are used by permission of the publisher, Everything Goes Media, LLC.

About the Author

I do not know Larry Broutman personally, but we do share more than a love of graveyards and photography. Broutman is a plastics engineer, which I find quite intriguing. I am a biomedical engineer, and one of the most notable pieces of research I published was in partnership with a plastics engineer (click here to read). What is it with engineers who are also artists? Left and right brains in action! 

Author Larry Broutman donates all of his profits from Chicago Eternal and his two other coffee table books of photography, Chicago Monumental and Chicago Unleashed, as well as his soon-to-be-released children’s book, Chicago Treasure, to The Chicago Lighthouse and Access Living.

The Chicago Lighthouse
The Chicago Lighthouse is a world-renowned social service organization serving the blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veteran communities. Recognized as a pioneer in innovation since 1906, The Chicago Lighthouse provides vision rehabilitation services, education, employment opportunities and assistive technology for people of all ages. Larry Broutman is a Lighthouse Board Member. His upcoming book, Chicago Treasure, features photographs of students from the Judy and Ray McCaskey Preschool at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled.

Find more information about The Chicago Lighthouse at:

Access Living
Established in 1980, Access Living is a change agent committed to fostering an inclusive society that enables Chicagoans with disabilities to live fully–engaged and self–directed lives. Nationally recognized as a leading force in the disability advocacy community, Access Living challenges stereotypes, protects civil rights and champions social reform. Their staff and volunteers combine knowledge and personal experience to deliver programs and services that equip people with disabilities to advocate for themselves.

Find more information about Access Living at