The country churchyard is at once universal and unique in the Christian world. They exist all across Europe and North America, providing an air of quiet contemplation and reverence in small villages and major metro areas. Novels have been written where the churchyard plays a significant role and, in some books, becomes one of the characters.
The tombstones scattered across the yard seem to reach upward engaging a sense of mystery as to who lies below. Worn inscriptions may identify the occupants of the grave and often provide insight into a life once lived. Despite the fact that death surrounds the church, congregants continue to arrive for regular services and other events that support the community.
Visiting the small town of Hillsborough in central North Carolina on several occasions, I photographed the Hillsborough Presbyterian Church and the Old Town Cemetery, which dates to 1757. (OK, by European standards mid-18th century is not very old, but North Carolina was still a frontier at the time). The churchyard houses 184 graves, including one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Hooper. The cemetery as a whole is actually comprised of many smaller family cemeteries, delineated by brick and stone walls. The enclosure directly in front of the church was a plot purchased by the wealthy and politically connected Graham family.
The sculpted dove sits on top of the headstone of Sophronia Graham who died at age eight. Old cemeteries remind us of the fragility of early childhood prior to the advent of modern medicine.
After making several stops in Hillsborough looking for photographic opportunities, I was never pleased with the images made with my conventional cameras. I decided to return with my digital camera converted to infrared (720nm). I was very excited about the results, seeing the high values in the foliage offsetting the darker mid-tones in the headstones, walkways, and walls as well as the dark sky and clouds. I try to create tension through the contrast which is more compelling because of the infrared shifts to our regular perceptions
All images were created using a converted Sony a99 with a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 (ignore the Exif data as it is incorrect). At present it is the only zoom lens I use on a regular basis except for my “grandchildren” lens on my Fujifilm, the 18mm-55mm f2.8-4. I process the RAW files in CaptureOne Pro 23. I have created several presets that coax the inner black & white I prefer from the RAW files—full tonal range and neutral to cool.
Churchyards are beautiful places that can evoke a restful, calm mood; however, the infrared treatment creates a jarring effect on our vision as the white foliage defeats our normal expectations.
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