As anyone who’s been following my blog, my YouTube channel or has visited my website recently knows, I’ve been engaged for sometime now on a series of excursions, expeditions honestly, across the mountain region of Alabama seeking out and exploring lost and forgotten cemeteries. I’ve been combing both film and wet plate collodion in my efforts. I believe one the first posts I made regarding this endeavor I mentioned the Woodsman of the World gravestones which I’d started to come across as well as the Tennessee style burial sites. I was, from the outset, impressed by the variety. Many weekends and months have passed since then and I continue my weekly expeditions continuing to be pointed in all the right directions by my trusty guide.
Well, this past weekend, when I returned home I developed my film and later that evening sat down to take a look through what I’d managed to make. I noticed that many of my film photos had started to take on a documentary look and feel and that I seemed to be less focused on art. This troubled me. Honestly, it troubled me greatly. It’s taken me up until now to suddenly get it. If anything I might have been at risk early on to put the photography and the art ahead of where I was and what I was experiencing. Much like the parents at the event fighting with, glued to, the iPhone or video camera and not really being THEIR in the moment with their child rather obsessed with documenting the event, I was at risk of missing some incredible stuff.
This all came home when I looked at my photograph of this gravestone.
The Spanish American War!! Are you kidding me!? I’ve never seen such a grave and indeed this war is but a whisper in my memory dating back to elementary school I’m sure. But here you have it. In a far off little cemetery in the foothills of the Appalachians in North Alabama, sits this listing forgotten little stone commemorating a gentleman from the 2nd Alabama Infantry who fought in this war. I was blown away. It was a lonely little stone.
Well, this immediately caused me to look for a photo I’d taken of another grave earlier on and here it is below.
PVT John D. Brown. This tiny little grave was way off in the woods and as you can see, there’s a tree growing straight up through the middle of it! What makes this one even more compelling is that it was in a “black cemetery” well on the edge of what was a plantation. At first I was taken aback and angry at what I viewed as downright disrespect. Being a former serviceman, Army, myself, the sight of this grave in this condition pissed me off. Then it occurred to me that it was in the black cemetery and the entire cemetery was a lost cause. This troubled me more. But, then it occurred to me that it was merely off to the side of the “white” cemetery which was equally a lost cause and I sort of calmed down a bit. This all was a lost and forgotten burial ground.
These two graves are incredible history. The very fact that I stood before them both is like standing before the grand canyon in terms of significance and magnitude. I’m OK that my photography at times turns documentary when I’m out focused on making art with my cameras. This is a sign, to me, that I am putting down the iPhone or video camera and taking in the event, in the moment.