"I am enamored with the hauntingly beautiful spirit of Savannah; history is tangible here. The cemetery in particular is a place where visuals and words come together as markers of remembrance; statues and engraved stones invite us to reflect on the lives of those they remember, and to consider our own mortality in doing so. I will be visiting cemeteries throughout the quarter in order to take photographs and inspiration from the echoes of memory that reside there."
-Graduate Drawing Proposal
Throughout my first quarter as a graduate student in Savannah, Georgia, I have been given daily opportunities to delve deeper into my recent, persistent attraction to all things bittersweet, haunting, and tragically romantic. The entire city of Savannah seems to hum with a mysterious energy, at once tapped into the vibrance of life and the specter of death. It is a hub of creative innovation, and also a pilgrimage site for those captivated by history, spirituality, the nostalgic, and the macabre.
And all this resting on hallowed ground with some of the largest, oldest, and most beautiful cemeteries in the country. These have become my regular haunts.
The cemeteries of Savannah have something to offer to every hopeless romantic, lover of beauty, and student of history. Trees dripping with Spanish moss. Flowers blooming well into late fall. Stones bearing the dates and inscriptions carved into them as far back as centuries ago. The stones in particular have been of special interest to me for both their textural and textual elements, and this series of images aims to capture these elements through the techniques of texture rubbing, photography, and mixed media collage.
My first true encounter with the cemetery as a site for artistic creation began on a peaceful Sunday in September, when I carefully collected ephemeral texture rubbings from a cemetery near my home. The experience was more spiritual, prayerful, life-changing, and relationship-with-death-changing than I could have anticipated. As activist and author Caitlyn Doughty would put it, spending time with the dead can help us understand our own relationship with death. The experience also affirmed my relationship with, and motivation for, creativity and life.
The materiality of vine charcoal contributed much to the physicality of this process: as I wrote in my proposal for the series, the title, "Ashes to Ashes, is drawn from this material and the relationship it has to fragility and ephemerality, earthiness and fire, darkness and light."
I used with a variety of other techniques in response and relationship to charcoal: photographic prints on "silver dust" paper, painting and drawing with soil, revealing and obscuring areas of image and text. I also experimented with rubbings using lithography crayon on canvas, and digital manipulations of the original vine charcoal rubbings.
Throughout this process, I was continually inspired by photographer and poet Duane Michaels, who maintained a both a conceptual and aesthetic relationship to darkness and light throughout his life and artistic practice.
“Upon close examination, our story is one long adventure as we whistle in the dark, afraid of the bogeyman, skating on thin ice; to be alive is to be with the possibility of falling, falling, falling. Taking photographs and writing is my way of saying I was here, I saw this, I felt this, I heard this, it happened.”
There is something endlessly fascinating about the relationship between darkness and light: an eternal struggle, yet one that is constantly shifting. As human beings, we somehow reside in the midst of this duality: we share a common fate and yet experience hope; we know suffering and yet are capable of profound love. We are linked in these perplexing mysteries to all those who came before us and all those who will go ahead. Cemeteries are wonderful sites for the contemplation of these complexities, and it is my hope that this series captures some of the essence of that wonder.