Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cradle to Grave

A few blogs ago I mentioned that I'm in the medical profession. I'm going to pick up on that thread and talk a bit about an experience that relates my day job to my cemetery photography. Totally unlike me, I know. I tend to jump all over the place with these stories, simply because I have the attention span of a gnat.

Sometime in the early 2000s I had an exhibit of my work in a cafe, one of my first public hangings, as it were. The image above was one of the fifteen pieces in the show. I call it "Possessed of the Means," a relatively simple composition, yet it seems to have innate power. A woman phoned me asking to buy it. Obviously I like when people buy my work--it fills me with a sense of awe that people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for something I've created. What I'm never prepared for, however, are the stories. People often feel obliged to tell me why they're buying my work.

Sometimes the stories are amusing, like the woman who bought the photograph at right--she emailed me afterwords to tell me she loved it so much she's having it tattooed onto her back! People are always respectful of the work, but very often the stories are quite unsettling. The woman who bought "Possessed of the Means"  hit me with a story that left me speechless. But first, a little background on what I do for a living, to show that my interests actually run from cradle to grave.

I work at a hospital where I (among other things) prepare and prime heart-lung bypass machines for newborn babies. This special kind of bypass called "ECMO" came into being in the 1970s, reaching accepted status as a viable therapy (for certain respiratory ailments) in the late 1980s. ECMO stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, which simply implies an artificial lung, pump, and plastic tubing system outside the body. Vascular access is attained on both the venous and arterial systems (through the neck), blood is siphoned out, oxygenated, then re-infused into the patient.

ECMO is not structurally different from adult heart-lung bypass, whose purpose is to bypass the heart and lungs for a few hours while some surgery is being done, usually on the heart itself. The main difference being that with certain babies with respiratory failure, ECMO is actually the therapy itself. Bypassing the organs for a week or so allows them to heal themselves! Our hospital was the lucky 13th ECMO center in the world, in 1988. Since then, we've saved over 500 babies, achieving a survival rate of about 95%. These are neonates who would've died without ECMO.

Back in 1988, a hospital couldn't actually buy an "ECMO Machine" - they didn't exist. Such things only became commercially available in the mid-1990s after ECMO became more than an "experimental" procedure (and insurance companies would pay for it). It was up to us biomedical engineers to build the devices that would provide the therapy. We built several over the years, often treating three babies at once. We eventually purchased sophisticated new commercially-available ECMO systems, scrapping most of our handmade systems. At one point, the Franklin Institute (in Philadelphia) asked to borrow one for a year-long exhibit on medical innovation. It was quite an honor, as the first heart-lung machine was designed and used at the hospital where I work decades ago by Dr. John and Mary Gibbon.

I never see the patient when I'm working, what with the surgical drapes. My team sets up the bypass system, primes it with blood, assists the surgeon in connection to the patient, then leaves. Nurses manage the case for the duration. I only get called if there's a major problem.  I also don't see the ECMO 'graduates', survivors at 5 or so years of age when their happy parents bring them back for a visit.  My eyes would leak all over the place. There's a reason I didn't train to do direct patient care, and instead became a biomedical engineer: I'd rather work with machines--machines don't cry. I really don't handle emotionally-charged situations very well, especially when they involve children.

So, back to selling my art. After this particular show came down, I made arrangements to meet the buyer and give her the framed "Possessed of the Means" piece she wanted. It was a happy enough occasion, I thought--I was getting a few hundred dollars and she was getting artwork that she desired. We sat at a table in the cafe and she immediately told me that when she originally called me, she listened to the pre-recorded message on my work answering machine, and asked what I had to do with ECMO. I figured she was curious so I began to give her the layman's description of what ECMO is. She stopped me fairly quickly and said, "I know what it is. My twelve-day-old son died on ECMO. The angel in your photograph reminds me of the one on his grave."

What do you say in a situation like that? Selfishly, I hoped her son hadn't been treated at the hospital where I work, but I was at a loss for words. All I could think to do was express my condolences and told her simply that I was glad she found meaning in my work.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who Killed Amanda Palmer

While this week's blog is not about cemetery photography per se, it is about death and photography.

This past month I had two photographs accepted in the Philadelphia Sketch Club’s annual "PHOTOgraphy" competition. While not as big a distinction as my rejection letter from The Weston Gallery in Carmel, CA, it’s a distinction nonetheless. The Sketch Club is America’s oldest continuously operating club for professional artists (since 1860).

The Philadelphia arts community as a whole seems to more accepting of, and even amicable toward photography as an art form than it was, say, a decade ago. The weak economy bodes well for photography too—it’s usually less expensive to buy a photograph than a painting or piece of sculpture! The Sketch Club and various art galleries often have mixed media shows, where photography is hung side-by-side with “real” art (as some might say). Still, Philadelphia is light years away from having a “Photo District” of photography-only galleries, as one finds in the Chelsea area of Manhattan.

The point of the story is that one of the two PHOTOgraphy exhibit judges (it was a juried show), Kyle Cassidy, is a notable photographer whose work I admire. So it was a bit of a thrill to have my photographs chosen, with the possibility of meeting Mr. Cassidy. Perhaps surprisingly, neither of the two pieces I entered in the show were photographs of cemeteries, but both had to do with death. My fellow members of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia are always good-naturedly trying to get me to expand my horizons! The image at the top is a (very Weston-like) film image of dead poinsettia leaves and the other the near-death experience of a skateboarder dropping into a bowl. (The skateboarder image sold.)

I have a couple odd connections to Kyle Cassidy through his two books, “Armed America” and “Who Killed Amanda Palmer.” Aside from the fact that both books have obvious connections with death and that would interest me anyway, I happen to have met the armed guy on the cover of the first book on a pirate cruise a few years ago (his little son’s name is “Uzi”). As for the other book, I’m a fan of both Amanda Palmer and fantasy writer/graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, who is Palmer’s fiancĂ© and penned the book’s text.

Half of the gothic cabaret rock band The Dresden Dolls (remember the hit song, “Coin-Operated Boy” from 2004?), lead singer, pianist, and lyricist/composer Amanda Palmer is an American performer who has since been enjoying a solo career. I saw The Dresden Dolls perform as the opening act for Nine Inch Nails back in 2005. Hard to believe anyone could adequately fill that bill, but The Dresden Dolls were a perfect choice. The book, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” has a companion musical score by Palmer.

The book, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer – a Collection of Photographic Evidence” is about death, or more specifically, about the many gruesome yet theatrical ways one can die. The book is full of photographs Kyle Cassidy made of Palmer’s “corpse” stuffed in a shopping cart, hanging from a swing set, floating in a lake, stuffed in an oven. Each of the many images is accompanied by a different narrative by Gaiman. My wife Jill bought this for me for Christmas last year.

Although the book is rather on the grim side, Mr. Cassidy was quite good-humored about it when I discussed it with him at the PHOTOgraphy show’s awards reception at the Sketch club last week. We discussed photographic techniques, my work in the exhibit, and his professional association with Palmer and Gaiman. He showed me some of his latest portraiture work on his iPhone, and told me he is working with Palmer on her next project. I wondered if he did this professionally and what he photographed in his spare time. We both laughed as he said, "Old buildings and stuff..." Being a fan of both Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman--and like a true nerd--I brought my (book) copy of “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” and asked the photographer if he would sign it. This he graciously did, after which he took the iPhone picture you see here of himself, me, and my daughter Olivia.

If I were to make an attempt to summarize my ramblings here, I would have to say that no matter what your artistic specialty, it’s healthy to keep your eyes open to other art forms. They can often influence your own cozy little artistic sphere in ways that might surprise you.

Check the links below for sights and sounds related to this article:

Who Killed Amanda Palmer Website

Kyle Cassidy Website

The Dresden Dolls Website

Neil Gaiman Website

The Philadelphia Sketch Club Website

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Cemetery, Only Half-Abandoned

Funny how life is simply a constant realignment of priorities. Time was, I wouldn’t go near a cemetery unless it had obvious and grandiose angel monuments. For ten years, I never read an epitaph. A few years ago I began to appreciate cemeteries for more than just their statues. I had no choice—with all the angels shot, I had to dig deeper into cemetery life, that is, if I wanted to continue spending ridiculous amounts of time in them.

I found myself in a weird state last week, New Jersey, to be exact. I was attending an opening reception for some photographer friends at a gallery in the lovely little town of Haddon Heights, NJ. I always carry a map to scout out cemeteries, and I noticed a small one in the area that I decided to check out on the way home.

Mt. Peace Cemetery in the town of Lawnside coexists with the Home Depot, just across White Horse Pike in South Jersey. I pulled onto its ungated grounds, got out of the car and began walking around the neat and tidy graveyard. Grass was cropped short and piles of old flower pots and cuttings lined the cemetery’s wooded perimeter. Lots of Civil War veterans’ graves with small flags waving, but that was about it—a small, sad little cemetery, as my Grandmother would’ve said. At first glance it seemed to have nothing to recommend it; at second glance I was sure it didn't-- until I noticed the tombstones in the woods.

The two sides of the cemetery not bordered by roads were bordered by a forest, essentially. It was densely wooded with vines encircling the trunks of gnarled trees. Bushes with red berries and wildflowers all but covered - scores of old tombstones! Were people buried in the woods, or did cemetery trees just thrive randomly in the fertile soil amidst these lonely graves?

As I walked back through the thicket over fallen trees and empty beer cans, I quickly realized the dates on the stones were not so old. Most stones were of a soft material which lost its detail to the elements over the past century, but some showed dates as recent as the 1930s. Old Mortality must have been on a bender when he was due to ride through Lawnside. It appeared as though somewhere along the line, the groundskeepers decided it really wasn’t worth maintaining the older section.

The cemetery is twice its apparent size—half in plain view from the street, half hidden under the dark foliage cover. Scores of graves litter the forest. Toppled and sunken headstones are easy to trip over, as many are not obvious poking through the wildflowers and vines. Treading among the stones I couldn’t help wonder why people would lose interest in a cemetery, in their own history. How do you just forget about all these people who died? The untended area was shadowy and packed with ghostly stillness, even as daylight filtered through the leaves above. Massive spider webs stretched from tree to tree and creepy shadows played on headstones. I got an unsettling feeling, something akin to that which Mark Twain described as “when one woke up by accident away in the night, and forgotten sins came flocking out of the secret chambers of the memory.

To add to the creepiness, there’s an old house in the woods, in a clearing beyond the trees. Imagine having a graveyard in your backyard—or rather, a graveyard as your backyard! Not even a fence to provide a psychological barrier between you and the scores of dead bodies mouldering in the ground. Forget wasting money on Halloween Fright Nights—walking through here at night would do it for me.

A good distance into the thicket I came upon a headstone with an old folding chair beside it. The deceased’s given name was “Anna;” the chair was tattered and rusty. Anna found peace in 1935, but obviously her mate did not. I immediately thought of the cinematic vehicle used in the movie “Rocky Balboa (2006),” where Rocky kept a chair at Adrian’s grave to sit on while he visited. Anna and Adrian were relatively young when they died (both in their forties), but whereas Adrian was fictionally romanticized, Anna was a true love lost. The pain suffered by her mate must have been the kind Baudelaire knew:

"When the low heavy sky weighs like a lid
Upon the spirit aching for the light
And all the wide horizon’s line is hid
By a black day sadder than any night"

He could not forget Anna, yet he is long forgotten himself, along with the scores of other people in these lonely graves. As I sit in my comfortable living room a few nights later typing this, its pouring outside. I can’t help but think of that chair in the dark, in the rain.

I knew nothing about Mt. Peace Cemetery prior to my visit—exploration is more personal that way. Afterwords, I did some research. Mount Peace was organized in 1890 by African Americans to provide a burial place for their dead—they were excluded from other cemeteries because of race. Bear in mind that until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-Americans were not allowed to drink from "white" water fountains or use "white" bathrooms. Even in death, there was segregation. Mt. Peace was designated as a "black" cemetery, one of the few along the East Coast (GSGI, 2003). Aptly named, it may have been the only place these people finally found peace.

In 1952, the company that owned and maintained Mt. Peace went bankrupt, and the 18-acre site fell into disrepair. A fire in the cemetery office destroyed all of the records and maps of the plots. With the inscriptions worn away from the stones, the dead have effectively disappeared. However, their presence is certainly felt. By 1978, Mount Peace was overgrown with shrubbery and had become a virtual dumping ground. Cleaning it became a neighborhood volunteer project. Residents came out every Saturday during the spring and summer bringing their own tools and equipment to clean up and cut back the undergrowth. The dividing line I noted earlier is simply where the volunteer cleanup crews ran out of resources. The Lawnside, NJ Historical Society continues to expand its efforts to restore and protect the cemetery.

Links for more information:

Garden State Ghost Investigations (GSGI)
Lawnside Historical Society
Mt. Peace Video Documentary

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hercules and the Best Cemetery Statues

Its certainly great fun exploring a new (to you) cemetery looking for unusual statues to photograph, but have you ever given up trying to find that elusive statue you heard was in a particular cemetery? Or maybe you just spent hours scouting around a graveyard you'd never been to, and you're wondering if you missed a particularly interesting monument? One method I've discovered to help me find unusual statuary in cemeteries is to ask the groundskeepers where their favorite statue is!

The first time this occurred was back in 2003, in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore. I was photographing with my friend Krista and we saw a worker loading a riding mower onto the back of his truck. One of us asked him, "What's your favorite statue here?" The guy got so excited he jumped into his pickup truck and said "Follow me!" As I’m writing this, I can’t recall which of us can take the credit for thinking to ask, which is odd because-to paraphrase Mark Twain-my memory’s so good I can remember things whether they happened or not.

The groundskeeper drove to the back of the cemetery and stopped at a three-foot-high white marble statue of a child. He got out of his truck, proudly showed us the statue said, "I call her 'Little Red Riding Hood!'" We were extremely grateful and spent the next half hour just shooting this unique sculpture.

Over the decade I’ve been photographing cemetery statuary, this image remains my favorite. It graces the banner on my website and is featured on my business card. It is one of my best selling photographs, and has turned out to be the most enigmatic.

Obviously, its not Little Red Riding Hood. The androgynous child is covered in a full animal skin (a bear? a lion?) and is holding what appears to be a shaleighleigh. The only thing the caretaker knew about the statue was that it graced the deceased man’s home (the person whose grave on which the statue stands). The man liked the statue so much that he requested it be placed on his grave.

Whenever I exhibit the photograph, people ask me what the statue represents. While I know the ‘stories behind the stone’ for much of my work, this one has eluded me. People have offered explanations, the most plausible one coming from an historian who saw it in one of my shows and said, “Oh, that’s Hercules as a child.” According to Greek mythology, Hercules did kill a lion and wear its skin, but he didn’t do this as a child.

Gallery curators expect you to title your work, but I have a difficult time with this image, since I really don’t know its meaning. I’d prefer not to title any work, really, as it forces a frame of reference on the viewer, beyond which they see nothing else. A title defines it for them. I’d rather leave a photograph open to interpretation, even one as seemingly plain and simple as this one. I like to think of the photographic image I created as being singular, and ultimately unknowable, much like ourselves. I’ve made the statue more abstract, in a sense, by photographing it out of its familiar context and giving it a new identity (through  the angle of view, the lighting, the dark background).
I like to think those of us who photograph cemetery statuary in a creative manner imbue the artistic philosophy described by the musician Patti Smith (in her book Just Kids, Ecco, 2010):

"It is said that children do not distinguish between living and inanimate objects; I believe they do. A child imparts a doll or tin soldier with magical life-breath. The artist animates his work as the child animates his toys."

Read more about Patti Smith and Hercules

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Scary Cemeteries

It’s October, and with Halloween just a few weeks away, I thought I’d get in the mood by scaring myself. So I took a drive to Camden, New Jersey. I’ve made photographs in some of the city’s run down graveyards over the years and thought I’d check a few out. While looking for Old Camden Cemetery, I took a wrong turn (pretty much any turn is the wrong one in Camden…) and ended up at Evergreen Cemetery, a mile or so away. If there is a bad side of town, this is it. 

Evergreen has long been a favorite haunt of mine, just up the road from the “Liquorama” liquor supermarket. Prior to Evergreen being taken over by ‘new’ management, it had a brush-painted plywood sign attached to the front gate warning “No unauthorized burials allowed.” That’s class. A decade ago, not much groundskeeping was evident—grass and weeds ran rampant, trees had fallen over. The place lived up to its name, being ever green. Back then it was just forgotten; now it seemed defiled and desecrated. Much like the surrounding neighborhood, its condition had worsened. As the Greek proverb goes, you can’t step into the same river twice.

Apparently, someone now cuts the grass. But that’s about it. Graffiti is an immense eyesore and the fence along Mt. Ephriam Avenue is broken through in many places. Trash is everywhere and monuments have been knocked over. Some are protected by the same security wrought iron as the row homes across the street.

Seemingly without concern for the cemetery’s plight, a neighborhood festival was going on across the street while I was there, with BBQ, music, and crowds. There were two guys filming in the cemetery. They seemed to be concentrating on the graffiti and piles of broken bottles. I asked what they were up to and was told that they were getting background footage for a documentary on the need for restoring Camden’s cemeteries. Apparently, Evergreen is one of the better ones—the one most in need was across town, Johnson Cemetery, otherwise known as ‘Needle Park.’ People think there aren’t frontiers any more, but they are all around us.

I drove around looking for photo-worthy scenes, and came upon a guy walking around inside the cemetery, near the northwest corner of the grounds. He was just inside the torn down fence separating the cemetery from Mt. Ephraim Avenue, plainly in view of the crowd. There are some old and rather expensive-looking monuments in the area, along with the wolf table you see here, hidden by the bushes. Though the fellow was dressed well enough, you wouldn’t mistake him for Henry II doing penance at Beckett’s tomb. I imagine if you wanted to score some dope, he’d be your man. The wolf table had become his little den of iniquity. Don't even think about law enforcement in this area of town! With Camden having laid off half its police force due to budget cuts, the forty dispatched Guardian Angels are barely enough to patrol the city's higher crime areas. A while later I was propositioned by a hooker. In the cemetery.

 “Ya married? Faithful? Can ya let me earn $4?” I was getting a bit depressed about the whole scene, so I decided to leave and drive over to Harleigh Cemetery, where Walt Whitman is buried. The interaction also reminded me of the seamier side of Whitman’s poetry.

Harleigh is a bucolic spot in the midst of, well, Camden. About a mile from Evergreen, it is a beautiful and well-maintained garden cemetery, with rolling hills and large weeping willows in and around its ponds. These Victorian symbols of grief, mourning, and sorrow seem more attuned to the city’s urban blight that to the many souls at rest under its soil. Just inside the front gate, down to the left in a shady dell, is the Whitman family mausoleum. This leafy restful spot where people have for years carved their initials in the surrounding trees seems so at odds with the squalor of the city. 

Standing in front of Whitman’s crypt, I thought about how he addressed the human condition without ever seeming judgmental. Whitman was really much more prolific than "O Captain! My Captain!," the metaphorical poem (about Lincoln’s assassination) you were forced to read in high school. You may recall him as being the father of “free verse,” and maybe even that he was politically active. However, he was not averse to crafting poems about city life, modernity, and technological change, not to mention (hetero and homo) sexuality in his life-work of poetry, “Leaves of Grass.” 

Regarding the latter topic, consider the Leaves of Grass passage, “To a Common Prostitute.” If there ever was a poem that on its surface seems self-explanatory, it is this:
 To a Common Prostitute

BE composed—be at ease with me—I am Walt Whitman, liberal and lusty as Nature;

Not till the sun excludes you, do I exclude you;

Not till the waters refuse to glisten for you, and the leaves to rustle for you, do my words refuse to glisten and rustle for you.


My girl, I appoint with you an appointment—and I charge you that you make preparation to be worthy to meet me,

And I charge you that you be patient and perfect till I come.

Till then, I salute you with a significant look, that you do not forget me.

Whitman seems to be compassionately stating that a prostitute is a human too, her work a craft. The woman he writes about, while on the bottom rung of the social ladder, is recognized as an equal in a deep sense. On thinking about his non-judgmental stance, it occurs to me that the entire Evergreen situation, if not the collective trashing of the city, could be seen in the same light. While I’d prefer things to be forgotten rather than destroyed, in the end, its simply survival of the fittest. Whitman wrote, “For what is my life, or any man’s life, but a conflict with foes.”

Some links you may find interesting:

Don't know what a "wolf table" is? Click here to go to my StoneAngels site and see what the wolf table in this blog looked like in 2006.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cemetery Photography Books

I was just sitting here this morning munching a bowl of Cap'n Sucrose, looking at my bookcase full of cemetery books. Over the years, I've amassed quite a few of them. I thought I'd share some of the titles with you in case you need a couple to round out your collection.  Most are cemetery-related photography books, but some deal with the broader subjects of death, burial, and mourning practices. Topics that seem to be of interest to most cemetery photographers.

There are many more books out there and I welcome suggestions to add to the list. With rare exception, these are just the books I myself own. Also bear in mind that many cemeteries themselves have published their own books.

Before I begin the list (in alphabetical order), I have to pay special homage to the book that started it all for me, what I consider to be the bible of cemetery memorial photography: Going Out in Style - The Architecture of Eternity by Douglas Keister. His was my first purchase of a book of this kind, and a decade later, I feel it has no equal. This wonderful hardbound volume is full of color photos as well as knowledgeable and entertaining text. (Visit Doug Keister on Facebook.)

Cemetery Photography Book List:

Angels by Marcia Lippman
Thirty postcards, hand-tinted images.

A Retrospective by George Krause
Half of these fine art images by photographer George Krause are death related--tombstone death portraits, monuments, and South American icon statues. Fabulous introduction.

Beautiful Death by David Robinson and foreward by Dean Koontz
Fabulous color photos of European cemetery memorials with a shockingly lucid and introspective intro by horror writer Dean Koontz.

Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts - A History of Burial by Penny Colman
With photos and text, Colman balances grim facts about embalming and mourning with accounts of curious and witty gravestones and eccentric burial requests, turning the otherwise dark material into entertaining reading.

Death--A History of Man's Obsessions and Fears by Robert Wilkins
Very entertaining and informative yet somewhat gruesome! Mostly text. Possibly the most interesting book of its kind I've read.

Death - A User's Guide by Tom Hickman
Cute little pocket-size book covers famous last words, quirky undertaker tales, bizarre burials, etc. All text. Perfect gift for the cemetery photographer!

Ghosthunter - A Journey Through Haunted France by Simon Marsden
Glorious black and white infrared photos by one of the true masters of the medium. Castles and cemeteries, with text. (Simon Marsden on the Web.)

Mourning Art and Jewelry by Maureen DeLorme
If all you photograph are tombstones, you'll be amazed at the galaxy of Victorian funerary art that has been hidden from public view for a century.

Philadelphia Area Cemeteries by Allan M. Heller
An interesting book of text and photos that offers short histories, legends, and hauntings related mainly to small, obscure cemeteries in the Philadelphia "area," rather than the better-known larger Philadelphia city cemeteries.

Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries by Thomas H. Keels
Very informative, albeit local, documentation of many of the region's burial grounds, both extant and long gone.

Postmortem Collectibles by C.L. Miller
Half photos, half text. Covers everything, from embalming chemicals to tombstones! One of the few books in print that features once popular photographic portraits of the deceased.

Saving Graces by David Robinson
Photo essay on the art of sensual statues in European cemeteries. Many cemeteries in Europe are strewn with shockingly sensual sculptures of women. They are idealized creations--young, gorgeous, elaborately posed, and beautifully sculpted. Robinson's exquisite photographs reveal the angelic beauty and mystery of these lifelike sculptures.

Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America - by Stanley Burns
Perhaps the most eye-opening, yet shocking book of vintage corpse photography in existence. Sorry, death portrait photography. Expensive, but amazing!

Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, Bereavement in Memorial Photography by Stanley Burns and Elizabeth A. Burns
The only book in this list I haven't read or even seen. If its anything like Burns' prior book, it should be awesome.

My apologies to the alphabet--allow me a taxonomic entry, if you would: I felt it appropriate to follow the Sleeping Beauty books with a few of Joel-Peter Witkin's. His contemporary fine art  corpse photography gives new meaning to the term "still life."
Forty Photographs
Gods of Earth and Heaven 
Songs of Experience
The Bone House  

Soul in the Stone - Cemetery Art from America's Heartland by John Gary Brown
This is a large hardback volume of mostly photos, with some text. Epitaphs, unusual statuary, and childrens' monuments are prominent features.

Stone Angels - A Celebration of the Mourning Arts by Ed Snyder (yes, yours truly!)
A book of text and original photography celebrating the grandeur of Victorian funerary art and its most notable subject, the cemetery angel. These ubiquitous denizens of the garden cemetery lend themselves to transformation into powerful photographic imagery. In travelling the world (well, some of it), Ed Snyder reports back with his funereal findings and shares new artwork that he has created in these Victorian sculpture gardens.

Stairway to Heaven: The Final Resting Places of Rock’s Legends by J.D. Reed, Maddy Miller
Interesting color photos of various rock stars' and other musicians' graves. The text won't reveal anything to you about your favorite band that you don't already know. (Read the review on my site.)

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister
For my money, the best handbook of cemetery memorial symbolism you can buy. High quality paper stock with many color photos.

The Best of Silent Cities by Jeane Trend-Hill
A photo book featuring some of the most interesting and unusual monuments photographed during the last five years by renowned memorial photographer Jeane Trend-Hill. Check out her entire series of cemetery photography books at

The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult by Clement Cheroux et al.
Fabulous photographs and text from "spiritualists" of the late 1800's. When photography was new and magical, it was believed that it could record the spirits of the dead on film. (
Read the review on my site

The American Resting Place by Marilyn Yalom
400 years of American history through cemeteries and burial grounds; photos and text.

Your Guide to Cemetery Research by Sharon Debartolo Carmack
Written by a genealogist and an admitted cemetery addict, the book of photos and text addresses a specialized area of genealogical research that can yield a wealth of historical and ancestral information. Chapters cover capturing a tombstone's information, epitaphs and poetry, and the value (and pitfalls) of cemetery transcription and preservation projects.