Tuesday, July 4, 2017


I’ve been doing fine art cemetery photography for over 40 years, but it wasn’t until we moved to Idaho that I had fairly easy access to several notable pioneer cemeteries. What makes pioneer cemeteries attractive to me is not only their age but it’s their usual rustic, unkept, condition that makes them such artistic subjects.

You see like many fine art photographers I’m attracted to anything old—the older the better! Weather and time’s effect (entropy) creates a marvelous patina on all things natural and man made that few artists can resist.  That’s why most cemeteries in big cities don’t interest me—they’re usually not old enough and too manicured (usually both) to hold my interest.  In addition the more modern cemeteries offer few differences in their construction materials—they’re all marble and stone—substances that require a very long time to show age. 

What’s great about pioneer cemeteries are their variety of materials.  The pioneers used what ever was available—rocks, wood, stone, marble, wrought iron and depending on the stature of the deceased they could create some elaborate monuments using a variety of these materials. I especially appreciate their use of wood and wrought iron as protective barriers (against wild life) surrounding graves sites.

The images below are of the pioneer cemetery in Idaho City, Idaho…
f9.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 400
This is one of my favorite compositions—I wanted that broken and leaning wooden fence layered against the remarkably straight wrought iron enclosure at the next gravesite.  However, what brought me to this angle was the light—the most important thing! This angle gave me the texture and shadows created by the setting sun.

As I moved deeper into the cemetery, overgrown by forrest, I lost the best light…
f5.6 @ 1/60 sec., ISO 400
While the lighting isn’t great this image clearly illustrates how overgrown these old cemeteries can become.  The forrest and the creeping vegetation will one day reclaim all this land. Some of the wrought iron work was remarkable…

Beautiful iron work around this lichen covered grave stone. A detail on the right of this fence with the defocused lichen as a background. 

Reading the legible headstones revealed the brutal reality of the high infant/child mortality rate back then.

f5.6 @ 1/80 sec., ISO 400

Many of these gravesite were devoted to children—several held siblings. This gravesite was touching for its unique ability to tell us, without words, the nature of those resting here.

This is why I’ve photographed cemeteries all theses years—especially the neglected, very old, cemeteries. Maybe my artistic versions of these places—before they too return to dust—will make them memorable.

’Til next week….

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site:  http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com 

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