Sunday, December 31, 2023

Do You See What I See…

Do You See What I See…?

No, this is not a Christmas blog, even though I am posting it as 2023 ends and 2024 begins. Maybe its about seeing into the future. I don’t see the way you do, and you don’t see the way I do. Does that make either of us wrong? Not only is it healthy to see things from another’s point of view, but it can also help your creativity.

What other people see

I posted the image above on Instagram and Facebook recently and had a comment that said, “For all the time I’ve spent there, I’ve never seen this!”

Even if the person HAD seen the stone, they would never have seen it, or captured its image, that way that I did. The monument is in Laurel hill Cemetery, Philadelphia. It sits atop a small, steep incline, and from the road, it doesn’t look that interesting (you can’t see the words). Remember when you went trick or treating in the suburbs as a kid? Was there a house up a hill that seemed like too much effort for a candy bar, so you skipped it?

I replied to the comment that its interesting how other people see the same thing differently. It happens to me a lot. Lighting and the direction you’re facing changes everything! Think about flea markets - you walk down the aisles in both directions, right? Otherwise, you miss stuff. Some years ago I found this awesome postmortem photograph in a vintage frame at a punk rock flea market. Got it for twenty-five bucks! Interesting thing is that I spotted it on my second trip down that aisle, in the opposite direction.

Once you do find that cemetery treasure during your next jaunt, how do you want to capture it in an image? It is true what Barthes says about a photograph (in his book, Camera Lucida), that it captures the death of something. So you cannot go back and capture the same cemetery image someone else did (or even the one I captured myself on an earlier excursion). You’d have to reproduce the angle of entry, composition, lighting, time of year, and so on. Impossible. But that’s what makes photography art. That's what makes a photograph singular.


I have often been jealous of images other photographers have made of the same scenes, same cemetery monuments that I have photographed. Theirs, at times, seem much better than my captures. But that’s how we learn, right? Art in general, gives us ideas for how we can improve our own art. And, it can be painstakingly frustrating at times. I used to photograph cemeteries with a friend who was easily a foot shorter than me. Just that difference in elevation provided entirely new perspectives on a given scene.

The easy way to see things differently (and maybe catch something that you missed before) is to make the extra effort to visit the same sites again. Park on the opposite side and walk in a direction you’re not used to. I have visited THE SAME CEMETERIES dozens of times! I typically find something I missed before.

Cemeteries and their monuments are not static. Stone erodes, visitors place decorations (or bury things), sometimes there is vandalism. And everything looks different under a blanket of snow. Shoot at the edges of the day – a low sun on the horizon throws warmer light and creates long shadows.


Plus, you’re probably not looking to simply document the existence of a gravemarker – you’re probably looking to create some artistic image, right? So go abstract. Use a photo editing ap like Hipstamatic, the one I used to capture the image at top. Perhaps you can try simple black and white, for a more abstract look. Most camera phones will let you change to black and white easily.

Straight camera phone shot of the same scene (rather boring, right?)

When I look at this standard, snapshot-style image above, it doesn’t really do anything for me. The stone is a powerful statement, but somehow a simple photograph does not project that message, that intent. Barthes might have said that the viewer should read in this photograph the “distress of a recent bereavement” (Camera Lucida). How to capture that feeling? A tintype ap can give this scene a very dated look, as tintypes were around in the Victorian era when this stone was carved.

Image edited with Hipstamatic tintype ap.

You’ll notice that the stone is lit with horizontal sunlight, which casts a shadow from the cross atop the "Crushed Hopes" grave marker. The angled sun also gives definition to the letters. If the face of the stone was lit with direct sunlight, you might not even see the letters.

Use Snapseed (camera phone image editor) or your camera (or camera phone’s) own photo editing software to create an image you like, one that successfully captures a mood. There are no rules! You’re not so much altering reality as creating a more accurate version of what you saw. I guess you might say that I am not an “incorruptible servant of artistic truth” as classical guitar maestro Segovia said about the composer Tedesco in 1939!

"Frozen Warnings," by Ed Snyder

A few hours before writing this blog, I drove over to Dirty Frank’s Bar, home of Philadelphia’s Off The Wall gallery. There was a recent group exhibit of art work, and one of my two pieces that was juried into the show was sold. I was picking up the unsold piece. I walked in and said hello to the curator who apologized that my second piece had sold. Hardly a wasted trip! That second piece you see above. I call it "Frozen Warnings." It is an image layered with two of my cemetery photographs. I was really happy with the image, and humbled that a stranger liked it enough to purchase it. "Frozen Warnings" is a composite of two cemetery images, neither of which I was truly happy with. But you know, when you're not happy with something, the end of the story can start today.


Maybe your hopes were crushed in some way last year. Artistically, perhaps you hit a wall. Horror author Grady Hendrix wrote, “Christmas is a time to be haunted by our memories, for every Christmas is our first Christmas without.” (This is from his 2023 article, How the Holidays Became Haunted,

Hendrix was talking about loved ones lost, but maybe we can think of it as old habits lost?  A few years ago I spent back to back New Years Days (two successive years) exploring an abandoned cemetery. Since then, I’ve developed arthritis in my hip so I think my days of jumping off walls into abandoned cemeteries are over. But if you stay creative, and are open to new ideas, there will always be new worlds to explore. The soul wants adventure.

And then there is luck, right? A red fox appears out of nowhere and poses in front of a tombstone. A parade of Harleys pours into the cemetery for a biker funeral. As they say in the Hunger Games stories, may the odds ever be in your favor.