Denise M. Riggs
A Portrait of the Key West Cemetery
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
The Key West Cemetery has an odd aesthetic that fascinates me. Unlike the peaceful green orderliness of other hallowed grounds, the nineteen-acre cemetery founded in 1847 is a flea market jumble of aboveground crypts, disheveled burial plots, wacky epitaphs and oddball statuary. And its large lizard population only adds to the slightly ominous appeal of this historic site.
Amidst all the disorder, I find its dignity compelling. Many of its vaults and monuments are sun-bleached, caked and crumbling, subjected to years of exposure and decay. The delicate washed-out pastels of plastic flower arrangements left graveside for indeterminate periods of time continue to honor the memories that cling to them. Hidden within the nooks and crannies are abundant tidbits of humor and sentimentality that add to this eccentric, wonderfully human place.
Returning to photograph this otherworldly setting since 2012, the nuanced portrait I’ve created is focused on subtle details. While some viewers might feel I focused on flaws or imperfections, I believe our flaws are the windows into what makes us human. The Key West Cemetery is a reminder of our quirky, flawed humanity.