You can learn a lot about a society by visiting the place where it buries its dead: as well as gaining a sense of its history you can form an understanding of its character and values. Often the experience can be every bit as illuminating as spending time in the company of the living.
Whenever I’m photographing a town or city I try to build in time for a visit to the local cemetery. At certain times of the year, such as All Souls Day or Tet, they become the venue for community-wide celebrations of remembrance and worship. Such occasions can provide strong, vibrant photos, so long as you’re careful to be discreet and show respect to those taking part. Then, by contrast, there are the great necropolises that contain the graves and monuments of the famous, their morbid landmarks always ensuring a constant flow of curious visitors whose reactions to them can result in some interesting images for the sharp-eyed photographer.
But I prefer to wander around the less popular parts of such sites. Especially on a warm spring afternoon, when the vegetation attains a technicolor brilliance and the air is heavy with a drowsy, buzzing heat. There’s something quite humbling about being in the presence of the forgotten, among the silence and the ranks of headstones whose inscriptions – once so studiously inscribed – now reveal little more than indeterminate squiggles. Some are still visited, if only by a muffle-eared council employee giving the grass around them a perfunctory cut, while others gently recede behind swags of greenery, wholly abandoned, their existence apparent only to the area’s resident wildlife.
Perhaps it’s just me, but as a traveller and a photographer I find these places quite enchanting.