Photo exhibition of just a few select pieces of incredible sculpture in Pere-Lachaise

Based on selections from my book Garden of Stone: 101 Incredible Sculptures of Pere-Lachaise, my photo exhibit at the Johnson & Wales University Library in Providence, Rhode Island, runs from September 26 to December 13. Since the library is not open to the public, I'm posting the photos included in the exhibition right here.

Division 4, French politician Felix Faure (1841-1899):

President of France from 1895 until his death in 1899, his seemingly peaceful effigy belies the turmoil of the last years of his life, which saw his administration embroiled in the notorious Dreyfus Affair. Sculpture by René de Saint-Marceaux.

Division 11, Fernand Arbelot (1880-1942), effigy by Adolphe Wansart:

Little is known of Arbelot's life but perhaps his epitaph tells all we need to know:

Ils furent emerveilles du beau voyage/

Qui les mena jusqu'au bout de la vie.
"They were filled with wonder at the beautiful voyage/
Which carried them until the end of life."

Division 12, French painter Théodore Géricault (1791-1824). Sculpture of Géricault reclining with brush in one hand and his palette in another by Antoine Etex (buried in division 8 Montparnasse Cemetery). :

One of the pioneers of the romantic school of painting in France, Géricault is perhaps best known for his profoundly moving canvas, "Raft of the Medusa." Based on the story of one of the most horrific disastrous shipwrecks of the 19th century, the creation of the canvas is a tale all its own and one well-told by Jonathan Smiles in his masterful The Wreck of the Medusa (2007, Atlantic Monthly Press)

Medusa detail
Division 15, Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898), Belgian lawyer and Symbolist poet:

Division 18, French chemist and politician Francois Vincent Raspail (1794-1878):

Francois Vincent Raspail was imprisoned during the reign of Louis-Philippe (1830-1848) and again shortly after the aborted revolution in 1848. It was while he was in prison that his wife died. Sculpture representing the spirit of his dead wife attempting to visit him in prison by Antoine Etex (division 8 Montparnasse Cemetery).

Division 20, French actor and comedian Leon Noël (1844-1913); bust (1889) by Gustave Déloye:

"Leon" is "Noël" backwards and, "Noël" is, well, you get it.

Division 25, French librarian and historian Anatole de Montaiglon (1824-1895); death mask by Francois Sicard:

Division 27, Gillet family:

Gillet, detail
Division 32, French sculptor Henri Allouard (1844-1929); sculptor; statue (1899) by Allouard:

Division 42, French sculptor Henry Triqueti (1803-1874), was noted primarily for religious themes. This haut-relief bronze sculpture was to honor his only son Edouard, who was killed in a horse riding accident in 1861. It represents Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:

Division 64, Memorial to the Soldiers Who Died during the Siege of Paris, 1870-1871.

This monument consists of four statues:

Soldat de la lign
le Fusilier Marin

La garde mobile
Division 70, Adelaïde-Louis-Jeanne-Victoire Herbemont Moris (1802-1875); sculpture "The Last Good-bye" (1877) by Léopold Morice:

Division 71, Joseph Croce-Spinelli (1843-1875) and Theodore Henri Sivel (1834-1875); effigies (1878) by Alphonse Dumilatre:

Both men died of asphyxiation when their balloon ascended too high. A third man, Gaston Tissandier (1843-1899) survived. Tissandier is buried in division 27.

Division 84, Achille Dester-Miard:

Division 88, American ballerina Harriet Toby (1929-1952):

Born Harriet Joan Katzman, she died in a plane crash with French actresses Michele Verly and Alice Topart. Every time I look at this relief I wonder, "How much of her short life did she spend up on her toes?"

Division 90, French socialist politican Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881); sculpture (1885) by Jules Dalou (buried in division 4 Montparnasse Cemetery):

Division 93, Jules Lewin (1847-1915):

This isn't just a figure resting on a tomb lamenting the passing of someone buried beneath the stone; it's someone who is in pain so profound that all she can do is drape herself over the cold marble like a human shroud, forever placing that last kiss on the broken column representing a life cut short.

Division 94, Richard Valentin (1892-1916), fell at the Somme and Jean Valentin (1896-1916) was killed at Verdun. Sculpture by A. Chatillon:

Division 96, Paul Boucherot:

Little is known of Boucherot and his connection was to the Prometheus story remains a mystery.

Division 97, Memorial to the French Deportees for Compulsory Work Service in Nazi Germany during the Second World War; sculpture by I and J. Gallo:

Division 97, Memorial to the Jewish Deportees to the Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen concentration camp; sculpture by J. B. Leducq:

Division 97, Zerbini:

Who were they, these two, sharing a tender moment of affection forever carved in stone?

Photographing Paris cemeteries

In 1992, just two year sbefore his death, Robert Doisneau, who grew up in the Paris suburbs of Montrouge and Gentilly, and became one of Paris' most famous "street" photographers, told an interviewer that "Photographers have become suspect now" and that he didn't feel welcome on the streets anymore.

After two incidents in Paris cemeteries I think I now know how he felt.

Recently I took the no. 13 Metro to Batignolles cemetery, at the very edge of historic Paris in the 17th arr. I walked into the cemetery had strolled over to division 1 where I began taking images of the striking sculpture of Jane Margyl, the late opera singer. A few minutes later a guard approached me. Pointing to my camera said "no photos!" He stood there waiting and watching me until I shut the camera off and put it away in my bag.

This is the second cemetery where this has happened to me. I was stopped in Bercy cemetery, in the 12th arr., several weeks ago and again told I could not photograph there. I thought at the time it was just a policy particular to that cemetery.

So what's the deal I wondered?

Since I'm not from these parts and have little clue as to the intricate workings of the French bureaucracy I asked a French acquaintance about this. Well come to find out that in France it is against the law to photograph in cemeteries -- any cemetery in fact -- since the graves are considered private property. It would be akin, I was informed, to photographing people's homes, which is also prohibited. But then I got to thinking that if it is prohibited to take photos of private property then certianly that must include: automobiles and nearly all buildings and structures. . . . almost everything!

I thought how on earth can such rules be enforced in an age when even cell phones have increasingly powerful cameras? I then wondered why photography is permitted in a place like, say Pere Lachaise or Montparnasse? It is also tolerated in Montmartre and perhaps two or three other cemeteries in Paris because those places have in effect become tourist attractions. And tourists love to take pictures. Soooooo. . . .

OK, so where does that leave us photographers who struggle to capture the moment, the feeling, the mood in a cemetery?

Well, it seems to me that there at least two significant issues at stake here.

First is preservation of the history surrounding the graves themselves. A cursory glance in some of Paris' oldest cemeteries will tell you that nothing is forever, and many of the graves are in a terrible state of ruin and thefts of funerary artwork is not unknown even today. (At least nine pieces of sculpture have been stolen from Pere Lachaise within the last several montsh alone.) It is only through photography that we can hope to at least preserve what once was a wonderful work of art or a unique form of funerary architecture, and at the same time to preserve a bit of French or Parisian history as well.

And speaking of artwork, one doesn't have to look very far online to see that cemetery photography can and often does produce some stunning art. The Parisians are very tolerant of many things, most certainly when it comes to art.

For these reasons alone the French should encourage photographers to go into the cemeteries and take as many images as they would like, to spread the word that open air funerary art is worth the time and trouble to preserve. And if along the way more art comes from such imaging so much the better right?

Wish you were here,


(photo: billboard advert of the mP3 music player wars. It has absolutely nothing to do with the post; I just thought it was pretty cool.)