Photographer Mavis Ma knows that life and death are topics most people would rather not think about.
But they are subjects that have fascinated her since she was a young girl growing up in China. She has spent the last few years taking photos of cemeteries, abandoned buildings and other modern ruins in various cities where she worked and traveled.
“Life and death are eternal topics for human beings,” said Ma, an architect and 26-year-old teaching associate at Columbia University. “Cities, like human beings, have their own (cycle of) life and death.”
Some of the images she has captured in New York City and Tokyo are being featured in a new exhibit titled “Urban Life and Death: A Visual Investigation” which runs from July 26 through Aug. 2 at By Name, a cafe and gallery at 324 Bowery in Manhattan.
Ma grew up in China and traveled to New York to study for her master’s in architecture at Columbia. She worked in Tokyo as an architect before returning to New York City earlier this year.
The exhibit includes photos taken at Calvary Cemetery in Queens as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park.
Ma said her background enables her to look at the city through an architect’s point of view. She is particularly interested in the relationship between urban graveyards and the city.
“I intentionally take pictures of the same theme in Tokyo and other cities to compare them with New York City,” she said.
Ma said she was struck by the differences between cemeteries she visited in Tokyo and New York City.
In Tokyo, Ma explained, real estate coule be more expensive near cemeteries, where they are viewed as public green spaces and parks.
“At the cemetery in Tokyo, people sit and eat lunch,” she said. “I never met anyone when I went to Calvary, except the people who worked there.”
Still, Ma said she was inspired by the sprawling cemetery with its unusual headstones and view of the Manhattan skyline.
“It opens up my imagination,” she said. “You can learn the most important things of a person’s life by looking at the headstones. It also reminds me that what bothers me and agonizes me is really not what is important.”