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.