This scene is how I found it, except for removing a fallen twig or two. Beside a grave a cherub sits on a plinth, under an elm. An artificial vine crosses her feet and a plastic wreath is nearby – I doubt that she will still be in the same position today, as, sadly, cemetery vandalism is common.
This was the main cemetery for New Plymouth; I have two grandparents and a great-grandfather buried there. The oldest part goes back to the 1860s and includes headstones related to the Anglo-Maori Wars; there is also an extensive section for returned soldiers. Some areas are hilly but these are also nicely planted or fringed by trees and shrubs.
As a cemetery Te Henui offers an unusual variety of scenes, topographies and chronologies. It would warrant a high place in the Lonely Planet guide to NZ cemeteries, come the day. That’s a jest.
“Eternity is really long, especially near the end”, according to Woody Allen. Of course eternity can’t be measured in years, but the only other scale we have is that of generations, counting from our own backwards or forwards, to the umpteenth. This too is an odd meditation: some people can barely remember their grandparents, and how many can recall their great-grandparents (I met two of mine as a boy)? Conversely, on our 100th birthday, will we look on our gathered descendants in wonder and bemusement – if not detachment?
On a well cared-for grave this uncommon collation of colour presents an ironic contrast: the most ephemeral of natural beauty is mimicked in everlasting plastic, and set against a single, powerful word engraved in enduring stone. That word will inevitably claim us all!
Memento mori is a Latin phrase which in loose translation means “Don’t lose sight of your own mortality”. This is the 13th in a series of New Zealand cemetery cameos.
“People have to die but flowers last forever”, no one said; this series is devoted to the Latin phrase that reminds us that our lives all have an end. Plastic tulips and carnations mingle here with real life bulbs, in this cameo from the upper slopes of the Picton cemetery. A single non-perfumed daphne flower ornaments the bottom of the cross, between the infants, while red and green buttons of plastic sit on the adjacent concrete.
It’s a timeless scene, maybe, but still subject to sunlight and the wind, and some day will be at the mercy of vandals or a severe storm. The terraced layout of the cemetery makes it easier to take such close-ups, and other graves often constrain picture angles. Although I can’t honestly say I’ve never done it, I don’t like to trespass on the actual graves. It seems disrespectful.
The cemetery at Mokau (in the southwest Waikato) occupies a hilltop terrace and gives good views in all directions. The house far across the valley seems relatively close with the compressed perspective of a long telephoto. Depth of focus here is enhanced by the tiny aperture, only available at the far end of the zoom. f40 is actually a ratio of the size of aperture over the length of the lens – thus the “wide open” f1.4 on my 85mm lens requires big, fat specs to obtain such a ratio: 1/1.4.
In post-processing certain areas of my images are typically worked over with spot-saturation, although I resist the urge to have them “pop”, as you see in so many sparkling real estate photos. Here the lichens were startling enough, and have been left untouched, apart from a +25 increase in overall vibrancy. In composition terms, the top right corner is occupied by only a gate and fence, and a horse or cow would have made this more interesting. Still better if the house owner had come out and stood on her verandah for a minute, but my yodel would never have gone the distance.
“Memento mori” is the Latin phrase reminding us of our inevitable mortality. Some say that we live on in the hearts of others – that’s the “loving memory” part. With the passing of the generations that memory is eventually eclipsed. The love is passed on though, to nurture and sustain later generations (best case).
Among the seraphim at Stratford’s main cemetery, this one reigns supreme. Close to the entrance, she stands very tall, although size can’t be all that matters in the angelic hierarchy. However high they loom, angels all have their price, and this was a dear one. Aeronautical lift is even more challenging for angels than it is for bumble-bees, but in the JW tracts that intrigued me as a lad, angels somehow floated above entire cities. Wow. The only named angels in the Holy Bible are Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer, the Fallen One. It is hard to imagine an angel named Barney, or Charlie say.
In a cemetery dotted with the usual monuments this sort of uncluttered line-up is possible only with a telephoto lens. That explains the lack of sharp focus on the distant cow, despite my using the smallest aperture setting. As f16 gives great focal range, a more astute use of depth of field principles could’ve helped here, if I had focused a little behind the angel. But as a finer point, that escaped me at the time.
Visiting this place again with a dear friend in 2014, I was still unaware that one of my own ancestors is buried here. In an unmarked grave (alas) lies my storied great great aunt Peggy, who died in 1930. Margaret (Madge or Peggy) Jollie had a privileged life, yet died in “reduced circumstances”. She has a major role in a biography I have since written on our neglected grandmother, Beth Jollie (1904-41). Isn’t it surprising who turns up where – living or otherwise?
No longer a common phrase, memento mori translates to “Remember that you have to die”, meant as a reflection on our inevitable mortality.
These cherubim fronting for love caught my eye in a cemetery-with-views on a Mokau hilltop. Having recently purchased a Nikon zoom lens (70-300mm) I was putting it through the paces, late one winter’s afternoon at this small community on the west coast of the North Island.
Using the tripod to allow slow shutter speeds, I was interested to see what the zoom did at the longest extension, especially at closest focus, and when well stopped down. While I was impressed that the lens went to f45 – a ratio usually seen only on large format lenses – only later did I learn about the diffusion effect at such tiny apertures, with DSLR cameras. An odd occlusion occurs – a bottle glass effect might be the easiest way to describe it. Fortunately none is seen here.
I like the juxtaposition in this image, and little group is an uncommon sight too. Exposing for marble sculpture can be tricky, and typically they are overexposed “in scene”, but at close range getting a good range of tones from marble is less challenging. These boys being at ground level were at least clean of the usual overgrowth, a definite problem on taller monumental figures, where beyond easy cleaning reach unsightly lichen and moss can become well established.
Memento mori: In turn we all take our leave. But love lives on, at least.
Odd neighbours at Greymouth. 6.37pm, 10 April 2018
The neighbourhood of New Zealand cemeteries can be quite quirky, especially in the larger cities, but even in Greymouth a cross can have an industrial background. Land bordering cemeteries is less desired for housing, so perhaps becomes more affordable for industry, or other purposes. The cross is strongly associated with Catholic graves, and it is easy to forget that our cemeteries have traditionally been segregated along religious lines, into Catholic, Protestant and Jewish sections (where the cross is understandably absent).
The cross is not perfectly placed, but close enough, given my frustrations with setting the tripod in a confined situation. The foreground is flash-lit, but the small aperture has subdued the usual effect, while enhancing depth of focus (thus the reasonably sharp background). No skein of cloud was available for the top left corner but the space is well balanced by a similar empty space at bottom right. In composition, empty spaces can be offset by other blank spaces in the frame. Colour-wise, the golden lichens on the cross have their counterpoint in the lingering sunset reflected in the windows.
Memento mori: Succinct Latin remembrance that we all die, each in our time.
Amongst the leaves, Te Henui Cemetery. 3.06 pm, 2 April 2018
A supplicant cherub amongst fallen leaves – these being a common metaphor for poignant memory and les temps perdus. This simple image again makes use of contrasting blank spaces, as I have resisted the urge to crop it at top and left. The limited palette adds considerably to the effect, assisted by the flat light of an overcast day.
The 85mm lens at close range has little inherent focal depth, but stopping down to a self-timed f16 has maximised the depth of field. Any gain here will sharpen focus for a short distance in front of the focal point – in this case the tiny leaf directly in front of the figure – while increasing it over a much larger zone behind the object. The self-timer was set to the shortest time (2 secs) and I often use this aid with the 85mm, both for hand-held shots and with tripod.
Te Henui is the first of New Plymouth’s two main cemeteries; situated above the valley of the Te Henui Stream in rolling country typical of Taranaki, it was originally on the edge of town. The lower slopes are wooded, making the older sections of this cemetery notably rustic. However, interesting cameos such as the above were sparse. My time was not all spent on photography, as I was surprised to discover (quite by accident) the final resting places of two people who appear in the family history I am at work on.
Memento mori (“Remember, we all must die”) presents a series of cameos from New Zealand cemeteries, illustrating memorable scenes or detail. Of course they have their melancholy aspect, but cemeteries retain a strong human interest and convey an impressive sense of time’s long passage. Often (but not always) these aspects are matched with a park-like atmosphere of peace and calm.
Sadly missed, Picton cemetery. 11.59 a.m, 14 April 2018
A striking cameo, illustrating colour composition. The two elements of the composition have been widely spaced, but there is just enough line and texture to hold the frame together. The simplicity of the image owes everything to the uncommon colour of the plastic flowers. As for the succinct inscription, those two short words are an effective final statement. I did not see them used elsewhere here.
A short telephoto lens works well for this type of assignment. However a slower shutter speed using the self-timer would give better depth of focus for the inscription. I don’t always think through optimal manual settings – and here I was wary of camera shake, which 85mm exaggerates. My main object was good definition on the key feature.
The drainage built into the site is proof that this cemetery is perched terrace by terrace on a steep hillside. This is not at all unexpected in Picton, a ferry town surrounded by high hills, where flat land is at a premium. The Latin tag “Memento mori” is a shorthand reference to the inevitable mortality we each face.
Rarely have I taken such a strange, otherworldly scene such as this. The funereal gold, grey and alabaster are relieved only by the faint sunset and the industrial background. In using flash I could easily have hand-held the shot; instead I struggled to compose on a tripod (already set up for long exposure possibilities). Flash is ideal for highlighting form over colour, but its great powers of definition involve high contrast, which I have softened here in post-processing. Twilight alone would not have chiselled the angel child nor have gilded the name so remarkably.
Memento mori: Latin for “Remember that we all have to die”, a reflection on our respective entrances and exits from the long-running Stage of Life. Of course “We are born alone … and die alone”, but what really matters is that these existential bookends happen gently, and with loving support.