My first experience with the Mexican view of death happened when we were living in Tepoztlán, a village south of Mexico City. Our neighbor Doña Juana invited us to a picnic for the Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos) in nearby Amecameca. Little did we realize that the picnic was literally to be held on the graves of her parents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
The Day of the Dead is not a solemn affair. Rather, it is a celebration where families come to clean and decorate the graves of their departed with bright orange flowers and offerings that ranged from small samples of the departed’s favorite food and brand of beer or tequila, as well as trinkets, skulls and skeletons made from sugar, and toys for deceased children.
As we picnicked sitting on her family’s graves, Doña Juana told humorous incidents about the dead, as well as telling the dead amusing stories about the living and other village gossip. On this day there was no clear separation between death and life.
The photographs collected here examine our ways of dealing with death in the Americas and Europe. These graveyards are not merely places where people place their loved-ones into the hands of God. They are places where we explore the borderlands between life and death. We bring offerings, tokens of love and grief. We come in hope that an afterlife exists.
These images seek to reach across the frontier into those surreal, spiritual domains.