Afterword to Guardians of the Soul

When the idea for this book first started to gel, my wife, Lynn, and I knew of a number Indiana cemeteries that contained statues. In fact, we photographed some for my last book, Lingering Spirit. Although we didn’t know for sure, we assumed there would be many more statues besides those we’d already seen. And our assumption proved correct.

According to the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, which is a part of Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, there are an estimated 125,000 graveyards and cemeteries in Indiana. Some are very large, particularly those in cities and towns, but the ones out in the country tend to be quite a bit smaller. In fact, many are family plots containing as few as one or two graves.

Even by limiting the scope of this project to the southern half of Indiana, we knew we couldn’t possibly visit every single cemetery. That would be too daunting a task. So, I started contacting people in each county who I thought might be familiar with the area’s cemeteries. Over several weeks, I spoke to, or emailed, dozens of county historians, funeral-home directors, monument dealers, groundskeepers, and grave diggers, as well as librarians and genealogical-society personnel. Most were quite helpful, and I’d like to thank them all for their time and enthusiastic tips. I’d also like to sincerely thank Claude Cookman for his wonderful Foreword. He truly understood my mission.

After getting leads for the entire area, Lynn and I prepared to start out, on a series of day trips, looking for cemetery statues. Lynn is a exceptional partner, and she’s a tremendous help when I’m shooting—scouting for good shots, locating smaller interesting statues, holding a reflector to balance the lighting, and offering helpful suggestions.

With an accordion folder full of county maps, we plotted routes that would connect all the cemeteries on our list. A few leads turned out to be duds, but most led us to some lovely statues. Of course, we checked out all the cemeteries we passed, even though they weren’t on our list—and were pleased to locate a number of additional statues. Sometimes we paid 2 or 3 visits to a cemetery to get better light, or more interesting clouds.

I have no idea how many cemeteries we actually visited, but we found something to photograph in nearly 200 of them. All in all, we discovered over 600 statues (and that doesn’t include the many small eroded lambs and doves, or newer concrete statues), and I took about 3,000 photographs of them. I ended up with so many images that it was difficult to choose which ones to include on these pages. Most of what I photographed are three-dimensional statues, but I also captured some outstanding two-dimensional bas-reliefs. Based on what we saw, I’d say that there are probably cemetery statues in every single one of Indiana’s 92 counties.

My camera is a Mamiya 645 medium-format model and I almost always use a tripod. For many of the shots herein, I used a filter (red, orange, or yellow) to darken the blue sky. For film, I tend to use Ilford’s FP-4+, which I process in my own darkroom. Because a number of the statues we encountered were up in the air, on top of a pedestal, I rigged a special mount for my camera so I could clamp it to the top of an 8’ step ladder, which I used as an extra-tall tripod. Overall, this project took approximately a year to complete, and we put over 10,000 miles on our Toyota RAV4 (which is equipped with a roof rack for the ladder).

When all the photography and darkroom work was completed, Lynn took over the project to do the design and layout for this book. This is one of her specialties, and it amazes me how fast she can transform a stack of images into pages as coherent and beautiful as these. So, in closing, I’d like to say “Thanks, Honey.”