Oakwood Cemetery Online Exhibit!

My wife got me in touch with an old co-worker who works for the State Preservation Board (I think?) Who got me in touch with the lady who runs the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel website, to show them my collection of photos from the cemetery. It just so happened that they had just put up an online exhibit, and I was asked to contribute to it. It took a month of hemming and hawing to pull out a few favorites, get them adjusted for color and write up a bio, and now it’s online!

Not too much more to say about this except what an honor it is. I’ve been taking pictures there a coupe times a year since early 2019, and have about 600 pics now, a mix of film, both black & white & Velvia slide film, and a sizeable number of digital shots as well. I need to get back on that rainy day project of linking my Flickr pages to the Austin Historical Society’s online burial database.

It looks a lot better on the desktop than on mobile, if you’re so inclined.

Candela 1997

It has been almost 25 years to the day since this picture was taken. On that day I realized, though the words had not yet been spoken, that I was about to be divorced.

I was in Bustamante for one of the Texas Speleological Association Grutas del Palmito restoration trips, and we took a side trip to a cave called Carrizal, which is near the town of Candela, a little ways north of Bustamante. The train tracks are still there, but only for freight, so the old train station was already in some disrepair, though it was still standing, and access wasn’t problem, so we pulled over on the way and wandered about a bit and took some shots. This was originally a slide in my old Pentax K-1000 that I got around to scanning some years later.

It wasn’t until yesterday when I put together the visual metaphor, from my vantage point in the hills, 25 years hence. I was still drinking, and would proceed that September and October to blot out the divorce and my crumbling life with alcohol, leading to a culmination on my birthday on Halloween when I came to the sudden realization that I was going to kill myself before I killed the pain.

In the photo, I am standing in front of a wall. In between me and the green grass and hills in the distance, the path through lies in ruins. They say the only way out is through (whoever they are) and so I find myself faced with crawling through the wreckage (Dave Edmunds style) – the shards and splinters of a broken life to get beyond the wall. Out in the daylight on the other side lies a pile of rubble – my past, that I must set right before I make it to the green fields beyond, and eventually the mountaintop in the distance.

Today I’m standing on the mountaintop looking down – I don’t like everything I see from on high, but I know my part in it has been a straight path through.

Happy Vernal Equinox From My Mammillaria

Not much else to type here. The maple tree is refusing to acknowledge that spring exists, and all the other cactuses in my cactus garden are grudgingly recovering from a couple nasty and traumatic freezes in February, but this little dude is going to town. I caught a couple macro shots in the evening sun. There’s not much for scale here – it’s smallish — maybe 4″ in diameter, so these flowers are actually tiny but I think rather lovely.

Looking forward to what look like the beginnings of blooms on a couple other cactuses — my horse crippler & claret cup are showing urges.

May the new spring bring rebirth to the world, and a happy new season to those who celebrate such things.

Project Interrupted, Oakwood Cemetery. (the dead are infinitely patient)

Way back in 1993 or so, I stopped at the Leakey cemetery and took a few pics of the old gravestones. I’ve always found it easier to take pictures of things that hold still, & it turns out that monuments, headstones, grave markers, whatever you may call them, are very good at holding still, unlike birds, people, or even plants, if it’s windy.

I drove by Austin’s Oakwood cemetery every day for about 4 years on my way to work, thinking each time that I should stop in there one day and take some pics, then finally in 2018, I made a foray. I fell in love with the place, and have returned several times to shoot rolls of black and white, Velvia slide film & qute a few digitals.

Oakwood 12-20 Velvia 36.jpg
Oakwood on Fuji Velvia

In an increasingly crowded Austin, I’ve found cemeteries to be amongst the most tranquil places a person can go outdoors – there’s almost never anyone alive at Oakwood but me and the occasional jogger that runs through on the main road west to east, between I-35 & Comal. There’s a ton of dead people there but they’re very quiet, and very good company. As I was drawn back again and again, I tried to define the scope of what I was shooting and why, and while that remains a bit elusive, I am not out to make a comprehensive photo library of every headstone. My thinking became that I would at least thoroughly cover the entire cemetery on foot & take pictures of whatever was of interest to me, mostly from a standpoint of compositionally interesting photos that would stand up individually. I am shooting with 35mm film because it’s challenging and aesthetically pleasing, but also shooting some digital because there is So. Much. Ground. to cover, and occasionally for detail that I’m unable to catch with film. To date, I think I’ve walked a little over half of the grounds, and will probably start over again & catch everything in the afternoon, because I have primarily being going in the mornings, and the direction the headstones face seems to be haphazard, facing either east or west at whim, so a lot of the engravings are in shadow at one time of day or the other.

Oakwood Black & White 11.jpg
Kodak Tri-X in my Canon AE-1

As I continued my visits, I began to get more interested in the history of the place & the people who were buried there — there’s a few famous ones, and quite a few unnamed graves, or illegible markers lost, as they say, to the ravages of time, but what about the ordinary citizens who lived & died in Austin in the 1800’s – what of their lives? Seeking a glimpse into their history, I found that the Austin History Center had digitized all the burial records, and had a searchable database organized by year & alphabetical order. I began to match up the names on the stones I was shooting to the database at A.H.C. & adding the links in the photo description on Flickr to bring a little more of the history to the photos.

I have a lot left to do – go through the majority of the pictures (305 on line at this point) and try to match them up to their respective database entries, and I have to go back and finish shooting the cemetery. This will be an ongoing project for quite some time, several years, I suppose.

Here’s a link to all my photos on Flickr that are tagged or labelled “Oakwood.” You can read more about the cemetery at Save Austin’s Cemeteries page and the work they are doing to help preserve it, and there are more links from there. The Austin Genealogical Society also has a page up with some references.