Loren's Reviews > Camposantos: A Photographic Essay by Dorothy Benrimo

Camposantos by Dorothy Benrimo
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Oct 16, 12

bookshelves: cemetery-books
Read in October, 2012

There seem to be very few books about the graveyards of New Mexico. This one, which collects lovely black-and-white photographs taken in the early 1940s, documents the camposantos that the photographer recognized would be going away. The wooden crosses and picket fences couldn't stand forever, even in the desert air. I wonder if these images could be recreated now, or if she was right, and all that's contained in this book has passed away.

The historical essay which opens the book raises an interesting point: During New Mexico's colonial period, "hostile Indians" desecrated graves, which led to burials inside churches. (I would have liked to see some images illustrating those burials.) By the 1880s, when things were more settled, every village had a camposanto surrounding its adobe church. Unlike the stark images in this book, some grave monuments were brightly painted, while others were white-washed. Crowns of thorns or roses were common decorations, but like the colors, these had vanished by the time these photos were taken.

The grave markers recorded here range from hand-lettered cement to rough wooden crosses to ornately shaped or pierced wooden planks. Offerings range from real cacti planted at the marker's foot to silk flowers or pine branches. Many of the monuments have lost their names, yet some still stand bolt upright against the dramatic sky.

Despite or because of the melancholy black-and-white photos, it's a really beautiful book. It makes me want to go back to New Mexico and seek some of these places out for myself. I wonder how much has survived.
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