Thursday, 25 March 2010

Monochrome lives

As my London journeys progress, it becomes increasingly evident to me that each trip seems to develop its own themes contrary to any conscious intention of mine.  This could be an effect of the particular terrain covered on the day or external factors such as weather, time of day etc, or it could be due entirely to chance.  Whatever the reason, I find that certain connections seem to form before my very eyes - as Peter Ackroyd wrote in the introduction to Faux Amis "We know everything in the city connects.  Nothing possesses a single or exclusive life."

I have already identified a sporting theme in this journey but running alongside this is a darker narrative dealing with remembrance and death.  At the entrance to a small park, I chance upon a war memorial laden with poppy wreaths.  Turning onto the main road shortly afterwards I come across a mountain of floral tributes heaped at the side of the road - the site of some unknown traffic accident involving a lover of Carlsberg lager.  Moments later I look up and spot a sign for a funeral director.....

Working my way up the map, at the top of the hill I turn off the road into Chingford Mount Cemetery, a gloriously over-the-top resting place for the dead of the parish, the serried rows of graves decked out in a riot of flowers, stuffed toys and associated memorabilia.  Many of the graves sport photographs of the dead, forever suspended in some moment from happier days, looking out accusingly at the living.  The whole effect is one of rampant sentimentality, touching at first - all those lives snuffed out or cut tragically short, still mourned.  All the outpouring of grief made concrete in words and objects.  But after a while, I begin to feel slightly uneasy, as though I am intruding on some private moment of grief, like a stranger at a funeral.

When I get home, I remember having read about this place before. In Lights Out for the Territory, Iain Sinclair's multi-layered, psychogeographic narrative of walking the streets of London, there is a chapter about the funeral of gangster Ronnie Kray and his subsequent burial in this very cemetery, accompanied by a grotesquely overblown and sentimental display of mourning

 "the sacrifice of thousands of carnations, pink and white and sclerotic.  Puce roses sweating with shame.  Eggy bundles of lilies, pinched at the waists by purple ribbons.  Wreaths like the wheels of articulated lorries.  Hearts and hoops and American flags....Monochrome lives recalled in hot flushes of colour"   

It was a relief to leave the cemetery and head back into the suburban streets, turning my gaze upwards for a change to take in the cleansing expanse of the sky......


  1. "each trip seems to develop its own themes contrary to any conscious intention of mine"- yes, I realize/d that since some time- and it is interesting to follow your aspects- I suppose that our subconscious is here active, too, filled with much stuff and some perspectives since years...- "remembrance and death" are also moving themes of mine (in our reading group we read some novels a half year long about those essentials). Your photo's are impressive; each one may tell a story, sometimes I wished I could read the names, e.g. the name of the child or the name of the 'SHE' (a very good composition) or the names of the younger couple -I like to visit cemeteries in other towns and countries and to read the names, the dates, some sentences of love and memory and to look at the graves/headstones in their architectural forms. Wonderful is the last picture after all the looks down to earth -" you are earth and you will get be earth again"- the look upwards into the freedom and clarity of a blue sky that the pair before did enjoy once, too!- a fascinating find ( so many strings spreading out from one point- pole)!I understand your feel ´."I begin to feel slightly uneasy.... I think you have done your work in a sensitive, tactful, and emotive way!

  2. Photo nr. 7: a very moving photo- two hands- two persons united as deads- perhaps after/ over some difficult situations of life - there might be a story to tell! I thought of the photo by Michael Ruetz (I assume you have seen it; there is a story: The Roman Catholic man and his Protestant wife were not allowed to get buried in one grave on the same cementary- in the 19th century in the Netherlands!):

  3. I love to spend time in cemeteries - there is something very peaceful about them. I'm thinking of doing a future project on the subject. I also like the photograph with the two hands - I had never heard of Michael Ruetz or the couple you mention. Together in life but not in death - how cruel.

  4. Yes, you must do that!- I could imagine you may have a special feeling/sensorium and a special eye to photograph graves, headstones... (Yesterday a young modern man showed me his photo's he had recently taken on Highgate cemetery (every time he goes to London he visits this place!) - I was thrilled, too....