I made a promise to Barry, a client and friend of mine that I would share the background and inspiration behind my piece, “Friends Forever”. The story itself is interesting enough (in my opinion) that I decided to make it into a blog post. If you don't find it interesting, let's all blame Barry! (smile)
This photo was taken at the Old Jewish Cemetery, located in Prague, Czech Republic. The earliest dated burial in this cemetery is from 1439 and burials continued there until 1787.
Under Jewish tradition, Jews must not destroy headstones and headstones are not to be removed. Due to the limited space available, more earth was placed upon existing graves, with the old headstones moved to the top. This has resulted in an estimated 12 layers of graves, with 12,000 cramped headstones visible and an estimated 100,000 burials distributed throughout the layers, as the Jews were forbidden to bury their dead outside their district. (Kudos to Wikipedia and About.com)
Quite appropriately, there is a old Yiddish expression that goes:
"Men tracht und Gott lacht.", which is roughly translated as "Men plan and god laughs."
On the day that I took this photo, I had a brilliant plan:
Get up at 5:30AM, make my way to the Jewish Cemetery by 6:15 to catch the sun rising over the headstones between 6:30 and 7:30.
Photograph the sun rising over the headstone of the author, Franz Kafka, who I had read was buried in the Jewish cemetery.
However, a few problems with my plans emerged:
The cemetery is attached to a synagogue, but there are several synagogues in the immediate area. As a result, asking for directions led me around three blocks, eventually arriving at the place where my search began, only to learn that the cemetary was inside the first synagogue I arrived at.
Having found the right synagogue, I then learned that they do not open the gates until 9 AM!
Further, the grave of Kafka is in the NEW Jewish Cemetery, which is across town, notthe OLD Cemetery, where I was standing.
...and the laughter ensued from the heavens!
I walked around the neighborhood, killing time until about 8:30 AM, in order to join any possible lines to get in. There were many sights to see and the time ran pretty quickly.
Upon entering, the area, you are greeted by a sign to the memorial, which details the atrocities meted out to the Jewish population in Czechoslovakia.
No photos are allowed in the memorial, but it was a small yet moving tribute, including illustrations from children, capturing the dark mood of the Jewish populace at that time.
After leaving the Memorial, I made my way to the cemetery and encountered signs declaring that there was a fee to take photos in the cemetery. Many tourists ignored the signs and went ahead with their cameras. Out of respect, I made my way back to the booth and paid for the right to take photos. I don’t mess with the dead.
The mood upon entering the cemetery was not as morbid as one would think. It was actually quite relaxing and respectful. The headstones were very closely arranged, with the older headstones being weathered and displaced due to time and the more recent headstones providing strong contrast. I noticed that some of the headstones had pebbles placed on them and I soon learned that this tradition was a way of showing respect for the dead. Visitors were encouraged to place pebbles as well, which I did at various points, especially after taking photos. Another mark of respect is shown by the men, whose heads must be covered in the cemetery at all times, whether by hat or yarmulke.
Fortunately I arrived early, as within a half hour of my entry, there were a multitude of tour groups of various nationalities. The walkways were very narrow, so being stuck between one of these slow moving groups was sheer agony. Rather than enduring the endless trudge behind the tourists, I let them go ahead, while I took the photo which I entitled, “Friends Forever”.
The tilting of the headstones towards each other invoked in me an image of good friends laughing at a joke, with one friend resting his arm on the shoulder of the other. The other friend, represented by the cracked headstone, is either laughing aloud or doubled over laughing. To me it suggested a fellowship that transcended death, even though the color and weathering of the headstones suggest that they were generations apart. The colors are as you see them, as I only increased the contrast, sharpening, and saturation slightly to capture what my eyes saw, correcting the inefficiencies of the camera.
Thank you, Barry, for allowing me to relive this profound experience. Having visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, while waiting for my Schengen visa to visit the Czech Republic, I developed an even stronger appreciation for the Jewish culture and the potential for man to rise above injustices.