Artist-in-Residence Blog: The Book
July 17, 2014
I prefer not to have other people around when I’m filming, photographing, or recording sound in the Cemetery. Somehow, having anyone else nearby puts a cork in my bottle of creativity. Against my better judgment, I agree to invite a guest along, saying I’ll text at 4:30 AM if I feel the cloud cover looks promising for cinematography. I hope this will be a deterrent.
“Promising for cinematography” is a complex condition. It has to do with the clouds being scattered, dark, and grey on the bottom; yet light and fluffy on the top, so that the rising sun rays slant horizontally in shafts, selectively bathing specific spots while leaving other areas mysteriously dark; while a light wind whips the fog around close to the water, as in the 19th century Hudson River School paintings of J.M.W. Turner and Frederic Edwin Church. Their work has a spiritual dimension, and I hope mine does too.
The clouds frame the Cemetery’s 180-year-old monuments against the sky, and the lack of blazing sun encourages flying insects. This winged buffet leads to birds filling the skies and fish coming close to the surface of lakes and ponds. This draws fishing birds down to the water, where I can quickly find a focal point. Clouds, fog, birds, bugs, and fish: a cinematographer’s nirvana. Just me, nature, and 98,000 graves.
Except my guest was undeterred, meeting me at the cemetery gate at 5 AM.
Putting on my friendly face, I open the locked gate and we enter. I lock it behind us.
Lately I have been focusing on the many graves of children in the cemetery. Judging by the numbers of tiny plots, children in 19th century Boston and Cambridge perished early and often. One small monument is particularly haunting: a child clutching a book. I’ve been photographing and filming it off and on for a couple of weeks. It’s not lost on me that children are dying early and often all over the world, even now. My guest and I talk about our children. Oh, God.
My guest asks excellent questions and displays interest and patience as I do my thing – basically, driving or walking around, looking in all directions at once, and occasionally planting my tripod down to squeeze off thirty to sixty seconds. I’m looking for what I call “moments.” Magical specks of time when the visual and aural exhibit gyrating all around us comes together: sun, clouds, wind, sky, earth, monuments, trees, fog, birds, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, wild turkeys, insects, distant auto traffic, airplanes, and bullfrogs.
I glance nervously at the time, feeling like I’m getting not much accomplished, knowing that more people will soon arrive and my semi-private enjoyment of this place will be over.
Then, my guest suddenly whispers, “Hey, look at that bird down there on the lake!” I turn my head and there it is. A gift from Mother Nature. Suddenly a short film piece comes together in my mind’s eye. I stealthily plant my tripod. And I’m really, really glad I had the foresight to invite this guest along.
Roberto Mighty is Mount Auburn’s first artist-in-residence. A new media filmmaker, photographer, and sound designer, Mighty will be documenting the conservation of the Amos Binney monument and creating a short film about the project and the monument’s history as part of our IMLS grant. Follow along with his progress by clicking the ‘Artist in Residence’ tag at the bottom of this post.