Photographer’s ‘Ode to a Cemetery’ casts Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery through an artistic lens

Bethany Eden Jacobson shooting in Green-Wood Cemetery
Bethany Eden Jacobson shooting in Green-Wood Cemetery
Photo by Bob Krasner

It’s not easy to find a new way to approach photographing what is probably the most famous cemetery in New York City; Green-Wood is certainly the most photographed.

The magnificently landscaped Brooklyn burial ground is the final destination of notable figures from Boss Tweed to Leonard Bernstein to Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Ancient statues and Art Nouveau mausoleums are everywhere and its accessibility to the public makes it all the more likely to be captured on various devices.

Bethany Eden Jacobson began walking the grounds about five years ago with her camera, a Fujifilm XT3 as well as an iPhone 13 and an iPhone 6s.

“In the past five years, my mother and several very close friends died,” she explains. “As I am in my 60s, I became ever more aware of the fact of mortality and the fragility of life. On a deeper level I wanted to explore how time and memory are conveyed through this ‘resting place for the dead.'”

Continuing, she adds that “this urban oasis allows me to lose a sense of time, to let my mind to drift, to process grief, to relive memories, both joyful and painful. There are many aspects to this Victorian cemetery that transport me, despite my Jewish roots.”

Tree by Bethany JacobsonBethany Eden Jacobson
Reclining Lady by Bethany Eden JacobsonBethany Eden Jacobson
Drifting With Flowers by Bethany Eden JacobsonBethany Eden Jacobson
Bethany Eden Jacobson and Art Presson – the VP of Design & Landscape at Green-Wood – inside the largest rhododendron in Brooklyn, on the cemetery groundsPhoto by Bob Krasner
Bethany Eden Jacobson taking a break from shooting in Green-Wood CemeteryPhoto by Bob Krasner

Many of the images that resulted from her walks are on display in the just opened show at the EV Gallery, “Ode To a Cemetery.” Many more will be available when she publishes a book of the same name with Hirmer Press.

It’s worth seeing the works in person, as she has tossed the standard printing methods for a much more personal process. 

“I wanted to explore the tactility of this particular landscape,” Jacobson relates. “So I learned the art of making handmade paper. I make it with cotton pulp, newspaper circulars, leaves, stems, shredded plastic and household cast-offs that I collected in my walks.”

Her images are then printed digitally onto transfer film and then transferred onto the paper, making each piece a unique image. Jacobson’s past artistic efforts have included video art and script-writing as well as creating short narrative and documentary films.

“I tend to discover what the right medium is as I dive into exploring a subject, based on my emotional reality at the time,” she says. “I take craft seriously and am a huge admirer of how craft informs content.”

The resulting work impressed Art Presson, the VP of Design & Landscape at Green-Wood, who will be contributing an essay to the upcoming book alongside the poet Cole Swenson. 

“Photographing a place like Green-Wood is like shooting fish in a barrel, anyone can take a good image,” admits Presson. “Bethany, however, allowed Green-Wood to get under her skin. It became a long-term passion project open to serendipity and personal imagining. She is reaching for elusive images; Green-Wood is a remarkable place that Bethany explores in her quest for magic.”  

Bethany Eden Jacobson in the EV Gallery pointing out some of the elements in the handmade paper that she prints onPhoto by Bob Krasner
The band Momentum played at the opening at the EV Gallery. L-R: Kobi Abcede, Jared Beckstead, Grady Tesch, gallery owner Kerri Lindstrom.Photo by Bob Krasner
Fans take selfies at the show openingPhoto by Bob Krasner
Noted local photographer Johan Vipper checking out Jacobson’s bookPhoto by Bob Krasner

George Hirose, an associate of the gallery who was instrumental in putting on the show, shared his take of the work.

“There is an ephemeral spirituality in Bethany’s meditations on nature,” he muses. “I have always been interested in photographic transfers as unique objects that transcend the literal descriptions of straight photography. When I learned that these photos were taken during the pandemic, I felt that the resulting marriage of image, process, and place beautifully expressed that sense of solace that many of us were searching for at the time. This body of work is a true poetic reflection of our shared consciousness during those difficult times.”

Jacobson sums up her experience in making these images with some thoughts and an inspirational quote: “Walking in nature is healing, vision is about being present and paying attention with all the senses, not just the eyes. Solitude is absolutely necessary for growth and creativity. Poetry in photography is as much about texture as it is about the quality of the light. Here is a quote from Andrei Tarkovsky, who inspired me: ‘I felt all the time that for a film to be a success the texture of the scenery and the landscapes must fill me with definite memories and poetic associations.'”

“Ode To a Cemetery” is on view through July 28 at EV Gallery, 621 East 11th St. in the East Village. There will be a gallery talk with the artist and Jim Fouratt on Thursday, July 20, at 7 p.m.

Gallery hours and other info available at facebook.com/EVGalleryXO/ and on Instagram at @_ev.gallery

Bethany Eden Jacobson’s website is bethanyjacobson.com and her Instagram is @bethanyedenfilm