Hello Jeane, how and why did you get into photographing cemeteries?
Hi Josh, my obsession with cemeteries first began as a young child when I visited family members’ graves with my parents. Whilst the adults chatted and arranged flowers, I would wander off and look in amazement at all the angels, doves and crosses. In 2006 I began working as a freelance photographer and writer and set up the Silent Cities Project, taking photos of many of the amazing memorials before they are lost and reclaimed by local authorities or nature, so that future generations can see what Victorian cemeteries looked like. I also became involved with their restoration. Six months later the first in my series of Silent Cities cemetery photography books was born. Far from my initial fears of everyone thinking how weird or depressing the photos were, they were actually saying they were fascinating. I am now up to Volume 12 and have also written an A-Z guide on the meaning of the symbols on graves called The Lost Language of Cemeteries and a children’s book based on animals in a cemetery.
How many brushes with the occult have you had?
I’m open minded as far as these things go and have never really been spooked. I do occasionally come across burnt offerings or evidence of black magic, but I leave well alone. If I am on my own in a cemetery and it’s getting dark I often sing – I guess that keeps anything bad away! One strange thing happened was during a catacomb tour, I saw a very tall, thin man join the back of the group five minutes after we went in. He stayed away from everybody and I keep sneaking looks back as there was something a bit odd about him, though I couldn’t figure out what. After fifteen minutes he vanished into thin air. I asked the guide about him and he checked with guy at the door, no one had entered or left and the group was limited to 20 people. On asking another guide he told me that there had been a very tall, thin grave digger who worked there, he fitted my description re clothing, hair etc, except he died two years earlier… I’ve had more amusing than spooky things happen to me, one hot day I joined a guided cemetery tour. We had only gone a short way round when I felt faint. I sat down for a minute and drank some water whilst the guide continued her talk. Feeling better we set off again only to get to the top of the path where I unceremoniously hit the ground. She radioed for one of the guys to come and collect me – oh the shame of being carried out of a cemetery! The next thing I knew I woke up looking at an angel. I figured I must have died and gone to heaven but was quickly brought back down to earth by the offer of a cup of coffee – I was in the office and the angel was a stone carved one awaiting fixing onto someone’s’ grave. I’ve never managed to live it down.
Where is your favourite cemetery? And what’s the best part of it?
It would be impossible to pick just one – I have so many favourites. I love Kensal Green Cemetery because of its interesting array of different types of memorials. Highgate Cemetery for its overgrown romantic beauty and the amazing sleeping angel on a bed of clouds. West Norwood Cemetery is also another rich in diverse monuments and incredible catacombs (catacombs are currently closed to the public.) I like the huge mausoleums which are like miniature houses adorned with decorative features, sometimes hinting at the life of its occupant. Bunhill Fields Burial Ground has lots of history and some beautiful old gravestones.
It’s a slightly macabre question, but have you designed you’re own headstone?
I actually get asked that question quite a lot. I did think about having something amusing like ‘I see dead people’ but I actually want an angel holding a bird, something pretty so people might like to visit and maybe take photos.