Saturday, 25 April 2009
Kensal Green Cemetery: a Photo-shoot - 1 (Adam Brown)
Thursday 23rd April was Saint George’s Day - patron Saint of England - and I was somewhat cheered to discover that nearly all the local florists and supermarkets had completely sold out of red roses (the symbol of St. George). Perhaps in times of recession there is a resurgence in displaying signs of national pride, especially in these times when we Brits have been pretty-much brainwashed to feel ashamed of celebrating our national day.
Anyway, I was looking for a red rose for a buttonhole. That evening I had been invited over to Kensal Green Cemetery (in North-West London), to turn up in my Victorian clothes for the preview of a photographic exhibition called Response - displaying the works of three students: Adam Brown, Hassan Cadinouche and Susan Martin; their responses to the cemetery itself.
So, just opposite Kensal Green tube station stood the Cemetery, a vast place going on for miles with huge, imposing iron gates for an entrance. And inside: acres and acres of wonderfully carved stone monuments and family vaults - a Goth would never want to leave!
And so to the Anglican Chapel: each of the three photographers had taken pics of different aspects of the cemetery and each were using a particular type of metallic printing process which completely escapes me but looked very effective.
After I’d had a jolly good walk round the exhibition, I got chatting to the Cemetery Chairman, Barry Smith, and then he just casually mentioned “would you like to visit the catacombs?”.
Within seconds we were descending into the vaults of the cemetery: tunnels and tunnels of arches and alcoves and more tunnels running endlessly into the semi-darkness. And. Looking around: floor-to-ceiling of compartments and grills and stone-sealed shelves - just like an Italian Cemetery - with coffins, over 2,500 of them (but with space for over 4,000). Hundreds of years of decaying wood and lead, of metal filagree grills and stone inscriptions mixed with various floral tributes (made of metal and plaster) preserved under glass domes.
Maybe it was the semi-darkness or the dampness down there or just witnessing the way the Victorians took Death seriously, but there was a wondrous feel of gothic decay all around. [Horror movie location scouts take note!… Saw VI ?].
Immediately I told Barry to fetch his camera (which he’d left upstairs) and we started taking a series of shots - these will take a while to get to me, but I shall post them up in a later blog. It was just as well the strip-lighting was working (although Barry and I later revisited the catacombs, this time in total darkness, just carrying a couple of paraffin lamps).
Later still, Adam Brown and I went underground again for some more portraitures, a few of which I’ve published here.
You’ve heard the term ‘darkly atmospheric’? That about sums up the Catacombs. Talk about Hidden London! Kensal Green Cemetery was a revelation. And to think I’ve lived in the capital nearly all my life and never even knew this subterranean place existed.
The Response exhibition carries on until Thursday 7th May.
The Cemetery is planning an Open Day on Saturday 4th July.
Here are a few useful links:
www.kensalgreen.co.uk [the Cemetery]
www.kensalgreen.co.uk/documents/KG_Open_Day.html [The 4th July Open Day]
www.alpha-beta-photography.co.uk [Adam Brown]
All photos in this blog (5-8)taken by Adam Brown, Except: 1,2 & 4 (Cop. Con) and 3 (archways) by Hassan Cadinouche.