It was a cemetery that inspired my pursuit of photography.
I realize that this probably sounds like an odd foray into the visual arts, but it’s true nonetheless. It was the early spring of 2000, and I was taking a college class called On Death and Dying. My professor, an awesomely eccentric social worker who believed in the power of personal spirituality, assigned us all the task of walking around a cemetery by ourselves as a way to inspire quiet introspection. I wanted to make the assignment more interesting by bringing my new camera, mainly because I needed a purpose. Wandering through a cemetery with just my thoughts to keep me company was a bit too unsettling. Being home on spring break, I decided, was the perfect opportunity for me to get the task out of the way. Armed with my little Canon A80 point-and-shoot, I walked through Oakwood Cemetery in Lansingburgh on a mild, sunny afternoon. To my surprise I actually discovered that cemeteries can be pretty interesting places, both from an historic and photographic perspective. I played with angles and lighting, distance and perspective. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew it was fun. After that day I started to see things as I wanted them to appear in a photograph. It took a while for this hobby to morph into the full-on obsession that it is today, and at this point it’s hard to believe that I went through life not taking pictures of everything.
Anyway, I do have a point coming up here. Today I got in touch with my photographic roots by wandering around a cemetery here in Saratoga that mirrors some of the history and scenery that I love about Oakwood. Greenridge Cemetery is just on the outskirts of downtown Saratoga Springs bordered by South Broadway on the west and Lincoln Ave. on the north. To be honest I only recently discovered this sprawling burial ground. I guess I always knew it was there, driving past it on my way to Union Ave, the track, or exit 14 on the Northway, but I never truly new how expansive it was.
While not necessarily as sprawling as some other Capital Region cemeteries, Greenridge covers a fairly large area when you consider that it is in the middle of Saratoga Springs (it happens to be the largest in the city). It is made up of a mix of modern headstones, markers from the mid-19th Century, and both small and large mausoleums that dot the landscape, acting as a type of stoic border patrol standing guard over everyone who couldn’t necessarily afford to remain indoors for eternity. While I enjoy admiring these buildings from the safety of my car, nothing will persuade me to attempt to peer through the slots in doors or stained glass windows adorning their walls. I prefer to leave well-enough alone. No reason to disturb potential zombies that can just walk right out of a door, am I right?
You know what else I could do without? Creepy statues. Who are the people that decide they want a life-size replica of some woman draping her grief stricken body over a stone crucifix? Anyone who knows me is well-aware of my irrational fear of statues, and it took all of my courage and positive self-talk to even stay put long enough to get this shot. This is exactly why I expect to be cremated. I will not be buried next to some freaky sculpture of a crying angel or a shrouded figure brooding over my neighbor in the afterlife. Burn me up right quick!
Regardless of the creepiness factor, I really do enjoy wandering around a cemetery steeped in history, reading gravestones, and thinking about the lives of the people buried there. Who were they? What were they like? What was important to them? What would they think of the world if they were alive today? All of these questions will continue to inspire me. And if you happen to be in my car on a sunny afternoon, you never know when we might be making a pit stop to explore someone’s final resting place.
Want to know who’s buried in Greenridge and learn a bit more about its history? Check it out here.