Friday, August 17, 2012

photo friday: the sad place

      For all those who were lost,
             For all those who were stolen,
        For all those who were left behind,
               For all those who were not forgotten

African Burial Ground, Lower Manhattan, New York City. 
© 2012 Amber Schley Iragui

St Paul's Chapel, established 1766, with the Freedom Towers rising above the 9/11 Memorial in the background. © 2012 Amber Schley Iragui
 Outside the 9/11 Memorial, with the top of my son's head.
© 2012 Amber Schley Iragui
Bellevue Hospital, NYC, where Charles' best friend died of cancer last year.
© 2012 Amber Schley Iragui
Trinity Cemetery, the only remaining active cemetery in Manhattan.
© 2012 Amber Schley Iragui
I am drawn to broken things—to heartache and scars. And although I've discovered my own strength most keenly in pain, I was drawn to sad things long before my own life had dealt me much of it. Even as a child I sensed that people who had suffered much carried far greater strength than those who had not, it was as if their pain endowed them with extra eyes and and broader, kinder hands. And as I grew I learned from experience that the human spirit, stripped of pretense and falsity, is often revealed as the beautiful and resilient creature it is. Looking directly at the sad places, things from which other people may want to avert their gaze, gives me courage.

The photos here were all taken on Sunday, when our family took a trip tour of "sad places" in Manhattan. We had absolutely no luck getting into any of them.

Our first stop, the African Burial Ground, a memorial for the recently discovered remains of more than 400 free and enslaved Africans buried in the 17th and 18th centuries, was closed for renovations. In addition, menacing signs warned that the premises had been poisoned. I stuck my camera under the barricade nonetheless and managed to capture the memorial with a reflection of the sky and clouds.

The historical graveyards at both St Paul's Chapel and Trinity Church on Wall Street were already closed for the day. But from the former I was able to capture not only the old historic building and the ancient graves around it, but the new Freedom Towers being built on the site of Ground Zero.

We didn't realize you have to schedule your visit the 9/11 Memorial online beforehand, so we just mingled with the tourists for a bit outside the site. We then drove up to the Marble Cemetery on Second Street, which was not surprisingly closed. From there we drove up First Avenue past Bellevue Hospital where Charles' best friend Valerie Fry died last year of cancer. She was only 41.

Our last stop was the large Trinity Cemetery not far from our home. It was also closed, but we walked around the deserted streets bordering it for awhile as the sky darkened. It is the only remaining active cemetery in Manhattan. It was time to go home.

Next week's Photo Friday theme, in honor of the end of it, is summer. It needs no explanation.


Julia said...

Interesting. Recently I encountered the blog of a journalist (which I cannot now seem to find) who has done a lot of photography of war memorials, concentration camps, and so forth all over the world. Apparently this is called "dark tourism" (, and that was the first time I've encountered that phrase/concept. It sounds like that is exactly what you did, and managed to get some very nice photos in spite of being shut out, which doesn't surprise me. I think I like the one of St. Paul's Chapel the best.

My girls keep bringing me that book Silent as a Stone (about Mother Maria Skobtsova) to my lap (I have no idea why--I definitely don't encourage it because I end up feeling emotional each time I read it), and asking me to read it over and over again lately. We do not own any other children's books remotely like this one in terms of the kind of reality of suffering it conveys, etc. I wonder if they can just sense the realness of this story in contrast to all of the other fluffy, inconsequential children's books we own. Or maybe they just like seeing me cry.

A M B E R said...

I think I was like your girls that way, I was drawn to sad stories because they seemed more legit--as if the adults were finally admitting what I already knew but no one talked about. When I read stories about the holocaust or about Anne frank, for example, I was relieved and vindicated. All that happy fairy stuff seemed suspicious to me.

Molly Sabourin said...

Powerful photos, Amber. They truly evoke both thought and emotion. I so agree with this: "And as I grew I learned from experience that the human spirit, stripped of pretense and falsity, is often revealed as the beautiful and resilient creature it is." Even more so the older I get. Thanks to you and Jenny for proposing this theme. It's an important one - even an oddly freeing one. Acceptance is so much more liberating, and enlightening, than fear and denial.