As We Are Now

This post is now also part of my new blog Dave Higgins Photography.

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From my early childhood, I remember numerous family visits to cemeteries. It wasn’t that we were abnormally morbid, or a large family with many relatives who had already “passed on.” In fact, we didn’t know any of the people whose markers we examined.

(Well, mostly. There are interesting gravestones of some family ancestors who were “murdered in a most brutal and cold-blooded manner” in New Jersey on May 1, 1843 – a story still talked about today. Miraculously, two children survived that massacre.)

Anyway, my family was doing something that’s not uncommon in New England: checking out old gravestones. Since my father had been a history major in college and his parents lived in New England, it seemed natural that we should find ourselves exploring old cemeteries, looking for memorable epitaphs and designs.

Beyond the consideration of their aesthetics, gravestones and monuments offer us windows into the lives and cultures of other people from other times. In summing up individual lives, cemetery art tells us something about what people of a certain time and place collectively valued and how they defined their lives.

Around 1980 I discovered that some modern gravestones featured something of a revival in gravestone art. Since about the start of the Industrial Revolution, gravestones mostly offered the basic facts: name, date of birth and date of death. But in the 1970s gravestones began to feature art work that told us something more about the person or persons they marked. This included images of worldly possessions or pastimes, representations of work occupations, and notes either from or to the deceased.

I took a lot of photographs of these gravestones in the early 80s, but then dropped the project as my attentions focused on other aspects of my life. Last fall, equipped with a new digital camera and visiting my sister in Texas, we explored some local cemeteries and found that modern gravestone art has flourished. I have been taking photographs of these gravestones ever since.

What are today’s gravestones telling future generations about us? And what does that tell us about ourselves? That’s what I’m exploring with these photographs.

The title of the project – “As We Are Now” – comes from part of a popular epitaph on old New England gravestones:

“Stranger pause, as you pass by. As you are now so once was I. As I am now so you must be. Prepare for death and follow me.”

My approach of photographing these gravestones in color on sunny days was inspired by a more recent observation of modern life, taken from the Beatles:

“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes, here beneath the blue suburban skies.”

Here’s an initial sampling of photos.

Rabbits - Pittstown, NY

Rabbits - Pittstown, NY 7/6/2009

“In every tear, there is a river of sorrow and memory. In every tear, there are oceans of love and loss.”

Enterprise - Delmar, NY  8/17/2009

Enterprise - Delmar, NY 8/17/2009

Shopping Cart, Albany, NY 5/23/2009

Shopping Cart - Albany, NY 5/23/2009

House, Colonie, NY  5/13/2009

House - Colonie, NY 5/13/2009

Fishing, Schodack, NY  5/22/2009

Fishing - Schodack, NY 5/22/2009

Cowboy & Indian - Joshua, TX 10/16/2008

Cowboy & Indian - Joshua, TX 10/16/2008

Tweety as Angel, Delmar, NY  8/7/2009

Tweety as Angel - Delmar, NY 8/7/2009

The last gravestone, featuring the cartoon Tweety Bird as an angel, is an interesting contrast to early New England gravestone imagery.

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All photographs are copyrighted by Dave Higgins; all rights reserved.

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About Dave Higgins

I've been interested in current events since at least the mid 1960's, and in ideas from modern science since the early 1990's. My website Quantum Age, which has been online since 1996, presents a basic framework for applying ideas from modern science to today's world. In this blog I discuss current events in the context of that framework.
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One Response to As We Are Now

  1. Marion says:

    These make me want to go out and look more closely to what I was walking by, and to plan my own tomb stone. What would I want it to express about myself. That is the eternal question: what do you want your life to represent, when all is said and done? Also, I LOVE the popular epitaph “As We Are Now” Thank you for sharing! These are great! I especially like the one by the Trekie!

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