Newark Cemetery is just opposite the end of our road, less than five minutes walk from our house. It’s a huge place, long and narrow, with both new and ancient graves and a section devoted to Polish War Graves. It functions as much as a park as it does a cemetery, being a popular place for dog-walking, cycling, and gentle strolls, and it’s full of greenery and beautiful old trees. It’s also a non-denominational cemetery with many different religions represented, and I like this.
I’ve been meaning to have a little photography expedition there for quite a while, but didn’t get round to it till recently. I had it in mind that I’d use my Lensbaby, because the somewhat surreal style caused by the blurring seemed to suit the subject matter. In addition, as it’s winter and there isn’t much greenery at the moment, I decided to shoot in black and white. This is really very unusual for me – I love colour so much I practically never shoot in black and white – but I felt like shaking myself up a bit and trying something different.
I set the camera up to shoot in RAW + jpeg – a nice way of managing to get both black and white and colour at the same time. The preview displayed on the LCD screen shows the jpeg, which is in black and white, so you can see exactly what you’re getting with each shot, but the RAW file contains the colour information so you can make a colour version as well. If you want to use the RAW file for your black and white image – and why wouldn’t you? – you convert it to b&w in post-processing, which also gives you a lot more control over the end result.
What was quite surprising when I eventually viewed the RAW files is that there was an amazing amount of colour in the shots. I put this down to the Lensbaby, which seems to capture colour that you often don’t know is there, which makes it one of my favourite lenses for colour photography. When I get the time I might process a colour version of some of these images and put them side by side for comparison.
There’s lots of potential in this place. I feel as if I’ve just scraped the surface of what’s there, and I’m sure I’ll be going back time after time and hopefully getting better shots each time I do. One of my favourite parts of the cemetery is the area with the Polish war graves – there’s a simplicity and a symmetry about the multitude of plain white stones that I find very appealing. Unfortunately I didn’t get a shot I was happy with, so I haven’t included any here.
At the other extreme, some of the graves are so smothered in statues, artificial flowers, vases, balloons, Christmas wreaths, baubles, and in one case, an almost life-size horse made out of flowers, that the sheer over-the-topness of it all just begs to be photographed – however, this is something that I think would work best in colour. I’d also love to do some candid shots of the people who use the place, but I feel uncomfortable with this. It’s a busy place and I’ve never seen a cemetery where there are so many people tending graves, but to photograph someone tending the grave of a loved one seems too much like an intrusion into their privacy.
So this is it for now – I was surprised how much I enjoyed shooting black and white, mostly because it’s always good to do something different and to stretch yourself a little. It was also good to get the Lensbaby out again, despite the usual frustrations I have with getting the focussing right. I had to go back and re-shoot a couple of images because I’d failed to get the focus in the right place but that’s all part of the fun, I guess.