Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn A Landscape of Lives - Page 5

marry who they love ; they ’ d probably be into issues around justice .
I look for outsiders and the unexpected in the Cemetery . [ One day ] I ran across a headstone with Arabic writing and another in Hebrew . I made the decision [ to include ] Bernard Malamud because I ’ m an admirer of his work , and it ’ s not widely known that Jews are buried at Mount Auburn . The headstone with the Arabic calligraphy on it [ memorializing educator Sohelya Rafieezadeh , 1954 – 2002 ] also had an unfathomable saying in English :“ Will I ever again dance on wine glasses .” It led to this fantastic deep dive into the world of an Iranian dissident poet of the 1950s [ Forugh Farrokhzad , 1935 – 1967 ]. I was fascinated to meet [ Rafieezadeh ’ s ] sister , who comes to the Cemetery every day . I got to know her and learned a lot about Persian culture and Iranian political realities of today .
Mighty asked for help from Tom Johnson , Manager of Family Services , in identifying a married same-sex couple whose surviving partner might be amenable to being interviewed and filmed ; and also families of color .
RM : I ’ m particularly interested in lesbian and gay people who are married . [ Tom thought of ] Gerald Dagesse and Cliff Richards .
I ’ ll introduce myself to the person , saying Tom Johnson suggested that you might be interested in talking to me . I ’ ll meet them at the Cemetery , and I ’ ll say , ‘ Look , I cannot do a biography of your loved one , because that would be a full-length movie , but I ’ ll want to spend about a year with you , off and on , and I ’ m going to photograph and shoot film and record sounds around your loved one ’ s grave for at least one year .’ I ’ m not trying to make a comprehensive , balanced picture ; this is not journalism . I just want an impression . In fact , these pieces are about the person I ’ m in contact with .
Roberto and and Lillian Hsu whose family is featured in earth . sky .
At the end of the year I take all that stuff , hours and hours of footage and recordings , and then — it ’ s incredibly painful , you know — snip , snip , snip , [ edit it ] into some kind of coherent impression of the person .
JG : What do people say to you when you say that you are an artist-in-residence at a cemetery ?
RM : [ laughs ] Oh , they say they ’ re dying to see my work . I believe I ’ ve heard ‘ em all . But mostly it ’ s intense curiosity : what could that possibly mean ?
I pride myself on the fact that everything that you see [ in my films ] you could see with your own two eyes . For example , at Bernard Malamud ’ s marker . I filmed it in all four seasons . So , I ’ m standing over it and there was a leaf right over his name . But I will not move a leaf ! The authenticity is very important ; that ’ s the documentarian impulse . The art thing comes in what you do with it .
I have a lot of rules . One of them is I can ’ t take a picture that a hundred other photographers or filmmakers have taken . I could show you a clip of this and a clip of that , but to me it won ’ t mean anything unless it ’ s all put together into a coherent visual narrative that will somehow speak to the viewer .
Mighty ’ s work at Mount Auburn is getting attention in cemetery-industry magazines , in part because film and video are emerging as dynamic new media for memorializing the dead . He will be screening portions of earth . sky at the upcoming meeting of the New England Cemetery Association .
RM : Like many people my age , I ’ ve had brushes with the cemetery system — in our case on Long Island in New York . Doing this kind of work you get an amazing perspective on the whole thing . I ’ m interested in helping people organize their thinking around their loss of loved ones . There ’ s a tremendous amount of avoidance of these issues that goes on . In the Afro-Latin cultures of my father ’ s native land , Panama , there ’ s a very sanguine attitude about death . [ Unlike here ,] people plan for their death way in advance .
What fascinates me is the depth of emotion that people are feeling , around feeling incomplete about their responses or reactions to what happened in the time leading up to a loved one ’ s death or passing . There ’ s some ritual thing that I think is missing .
RHR : What ’ s the future home of earth . sky ? Where ’ s it going to live ?
RM : It can travel to anywhere where there are five screens . I ’ m keenly interested in having people walk into a space and that space coming alive with this exhibit all around them . I would love to have a station [ like Story Corps ] where people could record their own stories , and have that instantly be a part of the exhibit . That ’ s something I ’ m working on .
[ The Cemetery residency ] is such an opportunity . It ’ s the commission of a lifetime , and it ’ s taken me all my life to get this one . I just can ’ t thank you enough .
2017 Volume 1 | 3