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Grave MattersReview - Grave Matters
by Mark C. Taylor and Dietrich Christian Lammerts,
Reaktion Books, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jun 3rd 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 23)

Skip the pompous introductory text by Mark C. Taylor to Grave Matters and dip straight into the wonderful black and white photographs by Dietrich Christian Lammerts.  We see the graves and last resting places of major thinkers of the western world.  Lammerts is a talented photographer, and he has traveled Europe and North America in his job as visual cataloger.  He starts with Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, in St Michael’s Church, St Albans, England.  We see a stone sculpture of the great man in a lonely graveyard.  We move, in order of the dates of their deaths, through Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, and other well-known philosophers and scientists, musicians and poets.  Particularly striking is the little known Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 1729-1781, in Braunsheig, Germany – a large tombstone, among others of similar size, in a graveyard surrounded by blossoming trees.  For anyone who believes in the importance of this tradition, it’s a mesmerizing collection of images.

            Lammerts’ artistry is most apparent in his photograph of a stone of Lord Byron, 1788-1824, in Hucknall, England.  All we see are words on a stone book, but somehow the words are glowing in the light, and there’s a sense of supernatural to the image.  Wagner’s grave, a large stone slab horizontal on the ground, surrounded by ivy in a wooded grave, with suffused sunlight lighting the scene, is similarly mystical.  But Lammerts most creative work is for those who do not have graves, whose ashes were scattered.  For Friedrich Engels, we see the sea of the Channel, from the seaside town of Eastbourne, England.  Wisps of delicate clouds decorate the sky. A photograph of Lake George, New York represents photographer Alfred Stieglitz.  We only see the surface of the calm water, making abstract shapes, and these go to make up a beautiful image. 

            For many of the twentieth century figures have more unconventional graves.  The 12-tone composer Arnold Schoenberg is memorialized by a white cube with a corner pointing up in the air.  Playwright Bertolt Brecht has just his name in white carved in a slab of irregular stone against a brick wall.  Jackson Pollock’s name is on a far more massive stone, and the shadows of trees in winter throw lines of shadow across the stone, perhaps bringing to mind his famous painting style.  The final grave pictured is of Ralph Ellison, in Trinity Church Cemetary, New York City; a wall of granite bears his name in one of its squares, and in the far background we see high-rise apartment blocks.  It’s an austere picture. 

            I’d have liked more information about the graves, especially when there’s a revealing story to how they were designed or chosen.  But this is a beautifully produced book, and it is a pleasure to browse through its pages time and again. 

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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