As I mentioned in my last update, I’ve been out and about with a good friend/guide exploring an ever increasing number of forgotten cemeteries across the countryside along the Alabama and TN border. My general practice is to dedicate a half a day to exploration taking along my Leica M6 35mm and Hasselblad 500C medium format.
Now, I need emphasize the extent to which many of these locations involve genuine expeditionary efforts and that without my guide I’d have no luck at all in locating them. On top of this, there’s a huge safety issue. These are not locations you’d just drive up to, hop out and stroll into. They are not just poorly maintained city or community cemeteries. They are truly in the wild. In some cases they’re old family cemeteries long forgotten and in others they’re what at some time in the past were community cemeteries with both the community and the cemetery now long forgotten. Safety is a big issue, not only with respect to the backwoods elements, from creatures to terrain, but also, well, let me just say it. Without my guide, I’d likely get run off or shot!
Cameras in hand it’s all about exploring and determining whether the location would be worth phase 2 which involves hauling all of the gear I need out to do a bit of wet plate photography. While this process is temperamental and challenging enough as it is, once taken on the road and out of doors it gets even more challenging, and, when you’re talking about humping all the gear and setting up in remote locations, well, it’s even more of a challenge. So my film recons if you will are my way of prioritizing and verifying that a location is viable both in terms of potential for interesting photographs which meet my artistic interests and realistically accessible and practical for wet plate photography.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not just hiking in and snapping area photos. I’m definitely exploring the location with an artist’s eye. I’ve included below a sample of photos taken last Sunday from three different locations on both my M6 and 500C (they’re square!!). I’m using Ilford FP4 in both cameras and developing via my standard Pyro process. These are just simple scans of the negs, nothing more.
The diversity of the graves found is quite amazing. From Tennessee graves (look like tombs above ground out of stacked rocks) and Woodmen graves (look like logs; see earlier entry below) to friggin Hand Carved tombstones, simple crosses and primitive wooden burial sites, the diversity is incredible.
Finally, I need to say that all of this is, and should be, done with the utmost respect and consideration. I truly mean this. It is also for this reason that I have not, and will not, give specific locations for any of these sites.