Defaced Angel

Defaced Angel
Pentax K-10D, 1/60 sec., f/5.6 ISO-800,, 70mm (August 2008)

This image is from 2008. I hadn’t thought about it for awhile. But when I sat down to decide what photo from the past to post this week, I “paged” though some old folders on my computer and came across this one. It’s always struck me as restful and sad, and just a touch creepy.

It’s a carved angel on a gravestone in a cemetery behind the house where my father used to live. I took the picture while on a late summer visit. If I remember right, the gravestone is from the late nineteenth century. It seems typical of the sentimental piety and funeral practices of the late Victorian era. The dead as sleeping angels. I don’t remember whether the person buried there was male or female, young or older.

In any case, what struck me and drew me into making a picture of it was the way someone had defaced the angel with wax and wooden match sticks. Adding to the mood are a couple of threads of a spider’s web attached to the angel. The gravestone and photograph are quiet, the mood of rest that society tries to achieve with graveyards. And they’re sad and just a touch creepy, not because of the association with death or the spider web. We are dust and return to dust. But sad and creepy for the way people deface gravestones. It’s mostly stupid kids.

I remember the graveyard near the rural home where I grew up. Every Halloween, people would knock down a few gravestones. I suppose you could go all anthropological and argue that such things are ways of dealing with death and our fears of the spirit world. But mostly the psychology of adolescents is a better explanation.  Dumb-ass teenagers, mostly male.  I’m not particularly sentimental, in general or about gravestones and graveyards or funerals. I’ve never really visited the gravesites of people in my family who’ve died. But I’ve been to a lot of funerals over the decades and have learned how powerful a good funeral can be, and how lonely and depressing some can be. I’ve also visited graveyards as historical exercises, showing students how they can learn a lot about a community’s history in a graveyard–about the piety and sentiment of a culture, about its political and social history, where war or accident or epidemic cluster a bunch of deaths, the way the dead, or at least their memorials, are maintained or left to slowly age and crumble.

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