Burial Sites: 

Leave No Stone Unturned


Lydia Smith's cataloguing of grave sites has been a decade in the making. Pushed in part by her family’s personal history with death among their community, her study of burial practices started with a 2012 visit to a graveyard in France, photographs from which begin her installation, Leave No Stone Unturned.

Laid out as a disassembled book, each chapter consists of photographs from a specific country’s sites, labelled with geographical coordinates which place the viewer in the precise physical location. The visual layout of the photographs often begins as a literal mapping out of the space, but is disrupted through Smith’s meticulous, careful arrangements, evoking mood, or following objects and figures of interest through sketches of narrative. Certain images are magnified and highlighted to create what she describes as “moments of pause,” revealing particularly stunning, quietly thoughtful compositions.

All combined, the book contains over 1,000 pages, with 13,000 images that span several continents, each with its own burial traditions, religions and histories. Viewers are encouraged to wander along either side of the table on which the book is arrayed and to flip through the pages, visiting the sites Smith spent years researching and documenting. The eye might drift through particular image progressions: the shuffling of a crow atop a headstone; a turtle swimming in blue-green water; discarded trash, graffiti; flower shops; a snail emerging from rain, with bright yellow and mahogany swirled shell.

Smith is concerned not only with the process of death, but also with what happens after. There are acts of collaboration and care, in ample evidence through the photographs: the living maintain and experience the monuments, using tools to clean the gravestones, placing bright flowers, remembering the dead, witnessing. How long, and in what manner, will these spaces continue? Some gravestones are toppled over, plaques or statues partially destroyed, meanings obscured. Trash bins overflow with piles of dried-out bouquets and discarded offerings. The natural world continues: a blanket of white flowers, moss and grass thriving among the stone, obscuring names and identifying markers, reminding us that while this expansive book serves as a sort of record-keeping, all is in constant flux.

—Maya McOmie




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