Yesterday I went cycling with my son and ended up, as one does, at a local churchyard: Holy Trinity, Gwersyllt.
My 4-year-old was keen to explore the memorials (not sure where he finds his inspiration for this kind of morbid fascination with gravestones). He also wanted to photograph them. So I gave him my mobile phone and showed him how to take photos with and left him to it. Some were blurred but most of the 57 were in focus and show dimensions of a modern churchyard and its memorials.
It would be pretentious of me in the extreme to claim my four-year-old boy has some special insight into the art of memorial photography: on the contrary my point is the opposite. Still, by choosing what to photograph and positioning himself accordingly, using a very basic camera and taking photographs of memorials, Toby’s pics tell us much about mortuary commemoration. Moreover, the very fact that he often photographed fragments of gravestones and elements that might not be readily comprehensible on their own, provides a different insight into the churchyard and the relationships between memorials rather than single memorials as isolated material entities.
He is photographing the typical as much as the exceptional. Likewise, his short stature provides a different physical perspective in itself. Therefore, while lacking experience and a distinctive informed purpose, his photos are far from random but focus on material elements he thought worth recording. Those that are seemingly utterly random still have things to tell us about modern mortuary commemorative practice.
NOTE: this photography took place in the 19th and early-mid 20th-century areas of the cemetery, although there are gravestones with inscriptions to those who passed away more recently. As a mark of respective, we steered clear of the more recent graves of the last 25 years.
Here are the first results. I add my commentary, not to impose intentions on the photographer, but to reveal what can be said from fragmentary data: a common challenge for all mortuary archaeologists.