I took the shot above at Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery. I love cemeteries and spend lots of time exploring them. They are like parks to me. Mountain View Cemetery is within walking distance from my house and is one of the places that I shoot most regularly. I love wandering around the cemetery there with my kids, watching them play, wondering about the people who lived the lives buried there. A single one line entry on a tombstone seems so little to give someone for an entire life of living — and even then only the simplest of phrases “Thomas Hill, California Artist.” Turns out there’s a lot more to Thomas Hill than just that. He was making amazing paintings of Yosemite before Ansel Adams was ever even born.
I wonder about the other people buried in Mountain View and other cemeteries. We have no Pharaohs anymore, no King Tuts. It seems like even the grandest of figures in life oftentimes are ignored in death. Recently I visited William Randolph Hearsts grave at Cypress Lawn in Colma. It took me a long time to find it. The tomb is large as far as tombs go and impressive, but nowhere near something that you’d think about for the man who built Hearst’s castle.
When I was down in Los Angeles I went by one “Henry Charles Bukowski Jr.’s” grave at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes. Bukowski got more than just a single line on his tombstone. Along with his nickname “Hank” he’s got an etching of a fighter, with the words “Don’t Try.” Somehow in his case that almost seemed appropriate.
When I visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I visited Lafayette Cemetery up in the tone Garden District of the City. My friend Anthony told me that the cemetery used to be full of great statuary but that thieves had stolen most of the great pieces there a few years back. After we visited the cemetery we walked around the Garden District. Anthony showed me Nick Cage’s house there. On his front lawn was one of the most beautiful sculptures I’d ever seen. I thought to myself that it probably came from a cemetery just like Lafayette cemetery, and thought about the irony of the rich having their graves robbed so that their statuary could adorn the lawns of movie stars.
If you like exploring cemeteries like I do, you might like this site “Find a Grave.”
My collection of cemetery images is one of my works in progress. I plan to visit as many cemeteries as I can and shoot them before I die. You can see my cemetery collection, “The World Belongs to the Living,” here.