by Marko Dutka Published 01/10/2016
The aim of this project was therefore not to photograph stones but to photograph people. Very often these people are ourselves. We are the ancestors of the survivors. These images are intended not just as a form of memory but also a mirror to ourselves. It is we who create the light pollution, the plane trails and the car headlights.
With a pilot project at Arnos Vale completed I then approached Bristol City Council and The Clifton Catholic Diocese about extending the project further.
It is probably not an overstatement to say that requests to photograph at night in burial sites are a fairly rare occurrence. However, both of these organisations responded very positively and energetically, and the project has now extended throughout the whole of the Bristol region. It also now includes dusk photographs of significant memorial architecture such as the Memorial Gates of Bristol Rovers Football Clubís ground. Throughout this process Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust has been a magnificent support providing backing and references. In short this project couldnít have taken place without the permission and support of organisations such as this.
The project has also benefited from the involvement of the general public.
When the pilot was initially completed, a number of pop-up exhibitions were held at Arnos Vale on their Open Doors Day and also as part of the Totterdown Arts Trail. Considerable numbers of people were able to access the images easily and were able to respond with ideas and feedback. Through one of these events I was informed of Luftwaffe Graves in a Bristol Cemetery where airmen were buried in the 1940s with full military honours. After locating these graves it was astonishing to discover that these burials were made not a 100 yards away from the graves for the Bristol Blitz victims.
Not so much an irony perhaps but rather a sign of a country preparing for its future responsibilities after the war?
This also indicates the breadth of subject richness this area affords. During this time I have photographed male and female combatant graves, civilian graves with ages from two months to 98 years of age. There are German Luftwaffe aircrew, Italian mariners, Polish pilots, Norwegian sailors, South African infantry, Canadians and Australians. I am photographing the graves of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Catholics and Anglicans.
The toll of casualties does not end neatly in 1918. Graves from World War Two, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, amongst others, criss-cross this region.
Given the real reason that these graves exist, it was initially difficult to find that people commented that these images were beautiful. These are markers of suffering, death and abject grief. However, throughout the photographic process I have spent long nights watching the moon float serenely across the night sky. I have seen stars imperceptibly mark out time and glorious dusks and dawns close the chapter on each day.
I have seen foxes, badgers, bats and owls gregariously get on with their business of living, and I have seen my society energetically and noisily expand its life into the night.
To me these are things of beauty and the greatest sadness is not that that they are beautiful but that those buried canít share this abundance.
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