In Honor of...

A personal project exploring items left at grave sites in honor of and in celebration of life.

Honoring the dead is a universal human tradition. From Ancient Egyptian mummification to virtual funerals; from Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations to the jazz funerals of New Orleans, the rituals differ from culture to culture, but the premise is the same: when a person dies, we honor their life and mourn their loss. We preserve their memory with tattoos and photographs; roadside memorials and park benches; museums and statues.

This photo essay explores the items left on graves in memory of those buried in one non-denominational cemetery in Rhode Island. There, in a small, almost hidden plot of land, personal tokens such as birthday balloons, pink flamingos and toy cars lay in tribute among angels, flags and flowers.

My interest in photographing cemeteries is an extension of my interest in genealogy. Researching my family history brought me to Find a Grave, a worldwide online memorial database populated with gravestone photos submitted by volunteers. I became a contributor, and with every cemetery visit I developed a fascination with the decorated graves. I found myself trying to piece together stories about the people buried there and the items left for them.

Headstones provide facts about a person’s life: family names, dates, religious symbols and epitaphs. But it’s the mementos that celebrate the life; whether it’s fresh flowers from a recent visitor, coins left by a fellow military veteran, or baseball bat and ball on a grave where grass has yet to grow.

Out of respect to the sensitivities of the families of the deceased, the cemetery name and names of the dead are kept anonymous. My intention is to highlight the mementos and make us stop and think about honoring a life. Photographed through the intentionally blurry distortion of a Lensbaby, the effect draws viewers into a dream-like world where they can imagine for themselves the meanings of the tokens, and in a sense, honor a person they’ve never met.