Well, it’s been a while since I last blogged, so I figured I was way past due. Actually in my defense, I’ve been out photographing—spending some time in England, and most recently this past weekend in West Virginia freezing my rear off in unseasonably bad weather trying to capture iconic autumn images. The colors were not great this year, but those complaints are best left to another blog posting.
As a follow up to my last post about Little Gracie Watson at Bonaventure Cemetery, I wanted to share a recent experience I had a few weeks ago while visiting London’s most infamous cemetery, Highgate. I promise my next blog posting will be a little lighter.
Highgate is widely considered to be one of the spookiest Gothic Victorian cemeteries in the world—with a colorful past that is rumored to include occult ceremonies and even sightings of the alleged Highgate Vampire. Bram Stoker was reportedly inspired to write Dracula after visiting. Hidden behind a tangled web of overgrown ivy and briar, where even the light gasps to find air, I can only imagine what Stoker must have been thinking as he quietly sat among the eerie Gothic monuments, vaults and catacombs strewn throughout the dark forests of Highgate.
Highgate is not only one of the world’s most notorious cemeteries, it’s also one of the most exclusive—especially if you are a photographer. The more ominous West Cemetery can only be accessed through guided tours, and tripods are strictly not allowed—which can be extremely challenging in the dim light conditions (the East Cemetery is self guided and much more accessible to the general public). After weeks of back and forth email correspondence and much pleading, I was able to secure exclusive permission to photograph on the west side. As an aside, I did provide a donation to the cemetery historic trust, which I was more than happy to do to help maintain this storied landmark.
While I was only able to visit for two hours, it was an amazing experience—conjuring up my imagination in so many ways. I’ll admit that the spooky aspect of the cemetery was one of the reasons I wanted to visit Highgate in the first place. Yet despite its colorful past and almost mythical outward facade, I could not help but think that there are real people with real stories buried in this cemetery—families, fathers, sons, daughters and lost loves. There is a certain tragic irony in only looking at a place as a distorted caricature of itself. But underneath the thick overgrown ivy, hides the true essence and poetry of this place—visible to those who are able to see its rare beauty.