Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tale From A Crypt . . .

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It's funny how one thing leads to another in life. By a series of chance coincidences a few years ago now, early on in the blogging days, I came across TomB's blog on blogger, and was seduced by the quality of his photography and especially his choices of subject matter. Sometimes things just resonate. His blog migrated to a Tumblr site, which is active today, and where the excellent work continues to appear, following his trips to a wide variety of sites where abandon is the key word, and his photography of them is poetry in practice. Lest I wax over enthusiastic in use of superlatives, I shall refrain from further praise, and simply encourage you to go take a look for yourselves. But thanks to his blog, and exchanges of comments there, little by little a correspondence developed, so when I was in the USA in 2010, we were able to meet for a day, and go visit two abandoned factories in Pennsylvania, about which I blogged about at the time, and he kindly, very kindly, gave me information which allowed me to visit a third site on my own, a coal breaker factory, which has also appeared in these pages. So when I learned that Tom and his travelling companion Jennifer would be in Europe on whirlwind tour of London, Paris, Germany, Belgium and Holland in May, it was only natural that we should try to meet again. Thus on a sunny Saturday afternoon two weeks ago, we set up a rendez-vous near the northwest entrance to Père Lachaise Cemetery, and were able to spend two hours strolling in that vast open air museum, before spending the evening over drinks and dinner in the 5th. So Tom and Jennifer, what can I say, it was wonderful to see you, and I hope the entire trip was full of good times and great photo locations. By the way, Jennifer, also is active on the web, her vintage business is thriving; you can see more of her work here on Sally Jane Vintage and here on her Flickr page... enjoy.
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We wandered in Père Lachaise seeking out some notable tombs such as Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and Oscar Wilde, but also just randomly looking for the exquisite details which abound there... like these old ceramic flowers, or a pelican sculpture which I'd never noticed before.
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It seems the latest fad at Jim Morrison's tomb, since it became forbidden to cover adjacent tombs with graffiti, is to stick chewing gum on the tree just in front of his grave, often with a cryptic message imprinted in the gum. This is fairly recent, as the tree in question wasn't covered with gum like this the last time I was there, and photographed a bit of graffiti written on the bark in black marker. I don't know what the tree thinks of this "decoration".
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Speaking of one thing leading to another in life; with Tom over dinner we were talking about other people who are passionate about abandoned buildings and photography of such places, the realm of urban exploration. One site we talked about is the fabulous Opacity project, to which there has been a link in my sidebar for a long time, but following our conversation, I went back and took a look to refresh my memory. During which visit I stumbled on a report about a location in Belgium, which is the page linked to here, where there is a large underground burial area beneath a cemetery. This is far more than just a small crypt below ground, it is composed of several gallery tunnels that stretch out for some considerable distance, which are lined with hundreds of burial chambers in the walls, each covered with an engraved plaque. On the Opacity page it is referred to as "La Crypte des Fleurs", and the location is not revealed, but there is a link from Opacity to another urban exploration website called Forbidden Places, where there is also a report about the site in question, titled the Abandoned Crypt. Although he does not name the community where the cemetery is located, he does provide a map link, where it is clearly indicated. With that information in hand, I went looking for the place this past Friday, when I had to be in Belgium for work for a day... and was thrilled to be able to find it, and to be able to descend into the underground crypt and return with photographs of this extraordinary and highly unusual cemetery.
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Already just the above ground part was well worth a good stroll around. Near the far rear of the grounds there is a large copy of Rodin's Thinker installed on a tomb, the likes of which I've never seen in a cemetery before. And there were many other remarkable sculptures and portrait photos, which I could have spent hours exploring and photographing, a few examples of which follow here, but I was focused on finding the underground section, which took me some time to finally locate.
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But at last I stumbled on a ramp going down below ground, not all that far from the main cemetery entrance, which I hadn't gone by on my way in, as I'd set off in another direction. There were barriers in front of the entrance, but nothing flagrantly saying "No Entry", and nothing to deter a curious visitor, so I ventured down the ramp to take my chances. And no regrets, as the underground crypt is a most remarkable place, have never seen anything quite like it. Many beautiful old portrait photos in varying states of photographic decay there, and many fascinating stories glimpsed on the plaques covering the chambers in the walls. Heartfelt thanks to Opacity, Forbidden Places, and especially TomB who was again the catalyst here. More photos to come, as soon as time allows. Which may not be for a little while, as will be travelling in Italy in the coming weeks.
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16 comments:

Steve said...

Always fascinating to see the artist behind the art...!

French Girl in Seattle said...

Bonjour Owen. So glad you got to spend time with a blogger friend! This is definitely one of the perks about blogging, isn't it? Wonderful shots (we did not expect any less from you, Monsieur Toad.) A special mention for the Jim Morrison grave. Glad fans have found a way to show their appreciation without destroying everything around the grave. Did you know there is a "gum wall" in Seattle? You would just have a blast shooting some of the [disgusting] details on that "monument" :-) Bonne semaine en France, Owen. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Mrs. Edgar Allynlouciao Poe said...

I am moved to leave you a cryptic remark.

Laurie said...

Wow, Owen! That's it. Just WOW!
Laurie

Robert Geiss said...

If there is a person who taught me much about photography, it surely is you.

Thank you for the inspirations, time and again, this return to Paris, where I've been two decades ago.

Please have a safe road ahead and a good time in Italy.

James said...

Sounds like a wonderful time was had by all! La crypte est tout simplement incroyable!

Pat Tillett said...

First off, it seems you and your friends had a great time. Your photos are fantastic! I would love to see those places. The underground galleries are amazing! The only thing that could make them any more surreal, would be LSD...
There is a town (San Luis Obispo) not too far from where I live where people have been sticking gum on a wall since the end of world war two.
Great post!

Amanda said...

as an archaeologist, i share your love of the old and the abandoned. your images of pere lachaise are remarkable, especially the detail of the ceramic flowers, the copper surround of jules teurling's gravestone and the 'gum' tree.

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Peter Olson said...

To meet blogger friends is one of the best parts with blogging! To visit cemeteries is a great pleasure for some of us! I have the feeling that it should be possible to write a novel about almost each tomb... When will we do the Montmartre one together?

Nathalie said...

Wonderful blogger meeting, I can imagine the joy on both parts.

Now for that underground crypt, it's downright creepy. What a find!

The Pliers said...

Owen, I'm delighted to see that you are continuing to maintain and develop your relationships with kindred photographers. I think that the photos that you took of your friend are wonderful.

The Belgian adventure was a great success and I wish you bon voyage in Italy.

Bravo on the international SPAM contributions from Italy and what other language? I darn't hazard a guess...

Amitiés

Stickup Artist said...

How cool to spend time with your blogger friend in Paris. Great portraits. And that underground crypt is an amazing find. I'm surprised at the amount of light down there. Makes it seem less eerie and kinda heavenly even though it's underground. Have a wonderful trip to Italy and can't wait to see your photos from there. Happy Trails!

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Owen, how wonderful to meet with more blog friends! I posted today (and linked to your post) a shot taken while with you and Ms. Grenouille, Peter, Virginia, and Holly at Saint-Denis.

I have spent many hours in PL but have never discovered the secret place you found - bravo!

Oh, that gum tree is disgusting - hah!

Safe travels and bonnes photos in Italy!

Nicola Carpenter said...

Wow! Such an amazing post and stunning pictures to go with it.

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