In many past societies as well as our own, cemeteries are more than places to dispose of unburned bodies and cremated remains. They are far more than places to catalogue the names of the dead through memorials. Cemeteries are memorial landscapes.
As such churchyards and cemeteries are four-dimensional collective and cumulative memorials to lives lived and deaths dealt. More than even this, they have many spaces that facilitate embodied engagement with the dead by the living, and connecting up the dead: paths, plantings, trees, benches and boundaries.
As landscapes, cemeteries chart many intended expressions of loss and love, and many unintended relationships between graves and between people living and dead. In all these regards, cemeteries are places of belonging.
For her entry for her school’s Eisteddfod competition, my daughter’s challenge was to take a black-and white photograph on her own and relating to the theme of ‘belonging’.
We asked her what she would like to take a picture of. She said she wanted to take a picture of memorials (we visit a lot of churchyards). It was appropriate, given that she is my only English-born offspring, that we went across the border to do the project. On a recent trip to St Nicholas’ Church, Burton, Wirral, I let her loose with my digital bridge camera and let her take some pictures. We then printed out a few in black-and-white and let her choose which she liked and helped her put it on a black card background and she wrote a description.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not smugly applauding my daughter’s abilities as a photographer, she is as random as me. Also, I must admit that while it was a sunny day, we were restricted in our movements by the very wet grass and so our exploration of the large churchyard was restricted.
Still, the picture she has chosen to submit both shows me (and incidentally proof it wasn’t me taking it) with a gravestone comprising of an upright headstone commemorating parents and a daughter together. A ledger is below, commemorating the son (and brother) of those above and noting his burial nearby within the confines of the same churchyard. There is also flower-holder. This monument illustrates belonging within one family over time.
There is also an absence: the gravestone to the left has broken and only its base remains…
Moreover, given the wide angle and her lack of training, the shot shows a clear relationship between graves, perhaps between families who didn’t talk or know each other well. Again, gravestones raised at different times but who come to belong to each other in death.
So I submit to you for consideration: ‘Belonging’ by Jemimah Williams, aged 8.