Gemma Peden’s illustrious images depict layers upon layers of time covering gravestones found around England. Not instantly recognisable as pillar’s of the deceased these photographs of organically evolved patterns engulf the stone work that Peden has captured. The matter of whose gravestones have been illustrated is disfigured by the process of nature ageing on to the stone. Although the concept of photographing a gravestone appears automatically macabre there is nothing of the sort with these complex images which directly deal with death and possibly even a new form of life in their elaborate patterns adorning the stone work.
How did you decide to photograph graves?
It was something that came from a family member becoming really ill. So death all of a sudden became a real thing for me. I just started thinking about how people deal with death and what we all inevitably become. I’ve never really been confronted with death like that before so I chose to deal with it in this way. Face paint came from trying to understand. Death is something every single person can relate to, in some way so i though it would make an interesting concept.
How many gravestones did you photograph?
So many! I went all over London and and travelled around to see all different types of grave yards. The best one was in Christchurch, a village near Bournemouth. That was like a church with a Jackson Pollock painting for its back garden. I spend hours there, it was really old. The textures and colours were just so beautiful I loved photographing for this project.
Which was the oldest gravestone that you photographed?
Most of the time the lichen made the writing and dates illegible but I went to lots of grave yards dating back to the 1800s.
Why gravestones in particular? There are lots of symbols that represent death but your images don’t have that obviousness in them in like how gravestones usually represent.
Gravestones represents the end to human life, like a full stop. It is something that is implanted into the soil left there as a remembrance to you and your life. The act of burial is important to humans, and we all do it in all different cultures. Grave stones are the one thing that stands test of time and a tangible thing becomes one with the earth and its natural surroundings. I chose to photograph close details of graves to really capture the synchronicity with nature. These stones left by our loved ones represent our new face. I didn’t want this project to be obviously linked to death because thats something we have all seen before. I wanted it to be something new, refreshing, colourful and a new outlook on death and what we look like afterwards. I think they are all beautiful and all different and I like that, I wouldn’t mind looking like that in hundreds of years
When was it that you realised how interesting the layers of time implanted on the gravestones look aesthetically and focused your attention on that?
I was walking once in Liverpool and I saw one gravestone in particular that was older than the others so had more layers and colours. It stood out to me and I looked at it closely for a long time, it looked like a painting. So then, I’d start to look at these graves like paintings and look closer and pick out compositions I liked – thats when I started photographing them. I guess I was a little obsessed for a while.
Which was your favourite gravestone?
My favourite was the cluster of grave stones I found in Christchurch in Dorset. They were all similar in colour but so different in pattern. I remember one in particular looking like it was covered in a floral pattern with perfect symmetry. That one stood out because it didn’t look real, it was different to the others.
How many images did you eventually put into this project and on what scale were they printed?
I chose only 6 even though I took a large amount of pictures. I felt these six portrayed the different patterns I came across throughout the whole project and I thought they were the most visually exciting together. I printed them only A3 size. I think they’d look better bigger so at the moment, as a little extension, I am experimenting with projecting the images on to houses and doorways.
To find out more about Peden and her project Face Paint look here