How long have you been interested in cemeteries and why?
The answer lies--as it often does--in the music. As a young teen, I was influenced by my older brother who listened a lot to the John Peel Radio Show. And in the early to mid-eigthies, that meant it was full of Post-Punk, Gothic and New Wave. And that, naturally, leads to cemeteries. When I first saw the cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," I wanted to see that angel for myself.
In the early 90s, my girlfriend (she's now my wife) introduced me to photography, and on a trip around south Europe, we visited a cemetery in Madrid. I guess that's where I caught the bug ....
What are your favorite cemeteries? (we all have more than one!)
The Camposanto Staglieno in Genoa, Italy springs immediatly in mind. Nothing comes even close. On second place comes the Cimitero Monumentale Milano. The best in Germany was--so far--the Melaten-Friedhof in Cologne.
This interview gave me the opportunity to dive again into my huge collection of cemeteries, and again I cannot help to recognize that cemeteries tend to be far more interesting and beautiful if they are Catholic. At least if you're after sculptures, which I am. I've visited 46 cemeteries since 2009 (the year I really took off) and made until today 6,843 pictures that are worthy to be kept (at least i think they are worthy). And of these 46 Cemeteries I've visited five in Italy. And made about 1,900 pictures there. That's how good they were.
What are your favorite monuments?
That is a tough one. I would distinguish between the monuments themselves and the pictures I've made. And since the list of my favorites changes all the time, I'll give you my all-time favourites that are not all-time at all but rather like a snapshot of favorites I have this time of the week .... (see pics below).
The first one is a sculpture of a naked beauty at the Staglieno Cemetery. It's an amazing piece of art.
The next one is, scuplture-wise, not very notable, but I love the photo. That's one I'm really proud of.
The third was taken in Verona, Italy. It's just unbelievably beautiful. That man is desperately clinging to his wife who is ascending to heaven.
My last selection is from Bielefeld, Germany, about half an hour from my home. I love her expression! And I'm quite proud of that photo ....
I can't tell you the name of the monuments because I mostly don't bother about facts like that. I try to make good pictures of beautiful and/or interesting monuments, regardless the owner. I'm not sure if this is unusual for a Tapophile, but then i've never met another in the wild to discuss this matter.
What is the farthest you've traveled to visit a cemetery?
I would say the Prazeres Cemetery, Lisboa, Portugal. It's about 1,400 miles from home. But it's a bit like cheating, because the main purpose of that trip was a family holiday. On second place would be Budapest, Hungary. That is about 600 miles from home.
What has been the most surprising thing you've seen in a cemetery?
The sign at the entry of the Cimitero Monumentale Torino that clearly depicts that taking pictures is strictly forbidden. That was not only surprising. It was shocking!!
What do you tell people if they think your cemetery infatuation is weird?
What's wrong with being weird? Everybody is weird. Some more, some less. I myself take pride to be bonkers.
What cemeteries are on your bucket list?
Every single cemetery in any city in Italy that has more than 30.000 residents is worth a visit. So the list is rather long. Then there's London: The famous cemeteries in London are called the "Magnificent Seven". I've seen three of them so four remain. On top on that list is a revisit to Paris. The last time i was there we only had an analog camera and not enough film.
Visit Martin's website.
Maybe you're not a trained cemetery preservationist, but you want to help your local cemetery anyway. Here are three things anyone can do to help out.
1. Keep it clean. Whether you make a morning or afternoon of it, or just take a plastic bag with you the next time you head out to take photos at your favorite cemetery, there's always trash to pick up among the headstones and trees. Speaking of trees, you can also pick up sticks and move small branches out of pathways and off gravestones.
2. Volunteer at the office. If a cemetery has an office, there is always plenty of work to do. Potential projects may include photo databases, archival projects and data inputting. You can help out with cemetery events as a tour guide, staff assistant, etc. If gardening is your thing, you can offer to assist with gardening projects.
3. Research. You can research the history of the cemetery or the people interred there. Visit your local library or historical society to gather information. Search the Internet. Compile your findings electronically and share them with the cemetery.
Do you volunteer at a cemetery? What type of work have you done to help out?
Check out more funny signs at funkysigns.tumblr.com.
The Schlafly Brewery has branded one of their beers for the upcoming 2nd Annual Beer Baron's Tour at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. I personally seldom drink beer (or much of anything really), but I would love to have a bottle of their R.I.P. Rye India Pale Ale, complete with winged soul art on the label. How cool is that?
If you are in the St. Louis area, the tour will take place on Saturday, Oct. 19, from 1-4 p.m. Tickets are $40, and the proceeds will benefit the Friends of Bellefontaine Cemetery.
I wish I could be there, but my daughter's Daisy Troop is going to be in our local Halloween parade that weekend. Even a cool cemetery event won't drag me away from that. :)
I'm the founder and editor of TheCemeteryClub.com and Epitaphs Magazine. I love cemeteries and sharing the art and history of them with anyone who will listen!