The juxtaposition between cemeteries and their surroundings has interested me for years. Every weekday on the Q100 bus in Queens, NY, I pass a plot of land (about the size of a small house) filled with old graves. Surely unimagined by those who long ago laid their loved ones to rest, the cemetery is now engulfed by a working class neighborhood. Gritty buildings enclose two sides of the burial ground and a barbed wire-topped chainlink fence delineates the other two. By contrast, not long ago, I visited an old cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. It blended perfectly with its surroundings, with mature trees and lush foliage both inside the grounds and beyond. The pervasive quiet gave the sense that the cemetery remained just as it had been envisioned by its original designer over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Another interest I have in cemeteries is their physical composition. In Northern California, I frequently visit a cemetery on a picturesque hillside scented with the sharp fragrance from groves of Eucalyptus trees. There are well-tended paths, carefully organized plots, and ample room for lawns around the granite gravestones where offerings of flowers or plastic buddhas are made. A hemisphere away, in a Venezuelan fishing town, I came upon an overgrown field scattered with above-ground, concrete rectangular tombs, where children jumped from one grave to the next and young teenagers lay in wait for birds to capture as pets. Within cities in México, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia, I’ve encountered many cemeteries that are like miniature apartment developments: concrete grids of tombs stacked one upon the other, and narrow grid-like “streets” providing just enough room for pedestrians to navigate their way.
What I wanted to communicate in this scene from Morocco was the similitude between the dwellings of the living and the dead in relation to density, building materials, and setting. I don’t think I’d like to look out every evening from the roof, as the man in the photograph is doing, and know that not much would change even upon one’s “departure”.