Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Souday not missing

Well good news for a change! The bust of French literary critic Paul Souday is not in fact missing from divisiom 85 in Pere Lachaise. I reported recently that it is gone, which it is, but apparently the cemetery staff removed it for safekeeping, something about it being unstable on its pedestal.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I returned to Montmartre and am now up to division 27. One more trip there and I should be done with my second pass through that cemetery.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Missing busts in Pere Lachaise

pWell another bust is gone, undoubtedly stolen like the other nine or so that have been discovered missing from Pere Lachaise since November.

The bust of French literary critic Paul Souday in division 85 is gone as you can see from the "before" photograph shot last fall and the image just taken today, Sunday January 28, 2007.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Montparnasse finished (almost)

Saturday afternoon I finished my "second" pass through Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. At this point I will probably only have to return there to pick up any last-minute images. Now all I need do is finish Montmartre and of course turn back to the videotaping of Pere-Lachaise. And pick up a few images from Vaugirard and Grenelle and return to Passy to check one grave and then . . . I'll be finished with one of the Big three!

Monday, January 15, 2007


Monday was a gorgeous day in Paris and what better way to spend an afternoon than in Montmartre cemetery.

I picked up the no. 10 Metro at Jussieu, changed to the no. 13 at Duroc and got off at Place de Clichy, barely three minutes's walk to the cemetery entrance. There were few other people in the cemetery so it was, of course, quiet and peaceful as I turned my attention to continuing my second round of photographing the cemetery. (photo: Cecille Firman, div. 13 in Montmartre.)

My goals this winter are to finish a second pass through Montmartre and Montparnasse cemeteries and to finish videotaping Pere Lachaise, all division-by-division.

When I first started photographing in the cemeteries in Paris, or rather the Big Three (Pere Lachaise, Montmartre and Montparnasse) it was summer and I concluded that I wanted to return after the foliage was off the trees and bushes to rephotograph everything. Then I added the additional objective of videotaping each of the 97 divisions in Pere Lachaise as well.

Right now I have finished up through division 20 in Montmartre (out of 33), through division 22 in Montparnasse (out of 30) and through division 82 in Pere Lachaise.

Anyway, it is a perfect time to be photographing here. The temps can be a bit on the cool side (well OK it can be downright chilly in fact) but with the leaves off the trees taking photographs can be much less of a challenge. And you can just see more.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More missing busts

Well the total number of solen artwork from Pere Lachaise cemetery has reached at least nine that we know of. One of them, Louis Thomas in div. 73/74 was not only stolen, but whoever took it apparently must have used a sledge hammer since there is a large chunk missing off the back of the pedestal as well. (photos, Louis Thomas before and after.)

There is now an effort underway here in Paris to begin putting together a database of funerary artwork in the Parisian cemeteries. There are some very serious folks here determined to catalogue what they can before it is too late. It is presently not known exactly how many pieces of art are in fact in the cemeteries, but from what I can tell it must run into the hundreds. . . .

And we are not talking about factory-produced items out of a catalogue, but one-of-a-kind sculptures, designed, and executed by some of the great names in the city: Millet, Vigneron, Cartellier, Etex, Barrias, Bartholomé, David d'Anger, Dubois, Bartholdi, Clesinger.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Photographing Paris cemeteries

In 1992, just two year sbefore his death, Robert Doisneau, who grew up in the Paris suburbs of Montrouge and Gentilly, and became one of Paris' most famous "street" photographers, told an interviewer that "Photographers have become suspect now" and that he didn't feel welcome on the streets anymore.

After two incidents in Paris cemeteries I think I now know how he felt.

Recently I took the no. 13 Metro to Batignolles cemetery, at the very edge of historic Paris in the 17th arr. I walked into the cemetery had strolled over to division 1 where I began taking images of the striking sculpture of Jane Margyl, the late opera singer. A few minutes later a guard approached me. Pointing to my camera said "no photos!" He stood there waiting and watching me until I shut the camera off and put it away in my bag.

This is the second cemetery where this has happened to me. I was stopped in Bercy cemetery, in the 12th arr., several weeks ago and again told I could not photograph there. I thought at the time it was just a policy particular to that cemetery.

So what's the deal I wondered?

Since I'm not from these parts and have little clue as to the intricate workings of the French bureaucracy I asked a French acquaintance about this. Well come to find out that in France it is against the law to photograph in cemeteries -- any cemetery in fact -- since the graves are considered private property. It would be akin, I was informed, to photographing people's homes, which is also prohibited. But then I got to thinking that if it is prohibited to take photos of private property then certianly that must include: automobiles and nearly all buildings and structures. . . . almost everything!

I thought how on earth can such rules be enforced in an age when even cell phones have increasingly powerful cameras? I then wondered why photography is permitted in a place like, say Pere Lachaise or Montparnasse? It is also tolerated in Montmartre and perhaps two or three other cemeteries in Paris because those places have in effect become tourist attractions. And tourists love to take pictures. Soooooo. . . .

OK, so where does that leave us photographers who struggle to capture the moment, the feeling, the mood in a cemetery?

Well, it seems to me that there at least two significant issues at stake here.

First is preservation of the history surrounding the graves themselves. A cursory glance in some of Paris' oldest cemeteries will tell you that nothing is forever, and many of the graves are in a terrible state of ruin and thefts of funerary artwork is not unknown even today. (At least nine pieces of sculpture have been stolen from Pere Lachaise within the last several montsh alone.) It is only through photography that we can hope to at least preserve what once was a wonderful work of art or a unique form of funerary architecture, and at the same time to preserve a bit of French or Parisian history as well.

And speaking of artwork, one doesn't have to look very far online to see that cemetery photography can and often does produce some stunning art. The Parisians are very tolerant of many things, most certainly when it comes to art.

For these reasons alone the French should encourage photographers to go into the cemeteries and take as many images as they would like, to spread the word that open air funerary art is worth the time and trouble to preserve. And if along the way more art comes from such imaging so much the better right?

Wish you were here,


(photo: billboard advert of the mP3 music player wars. It has absolutely nothing to do with the post; I just thought it was pretty cool.)