Continuing with Infrared : The Muslim Burial Ground

Continuing with Infrared : The Muslim Burial Ground

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One area of Horsell Common contains a now abandoned Muslim burial ground, which is a Grade II listed building in the care of Horsell Common Preservation Society. Over a million troops from India fought for Britain in the 1st World War and those wounded were brought from France to special hospitals along the South Coast (for example the converted Brighton Royal Pavilion).  There was concern that those who died in hospital weren’t being buried according to their religious custom and, in 1915, the War Office created the burial ground near to the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking at the request of the Muslim community.  Sadly, the graves were desecrated and the bodies were moved to Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, which has a Commonwealth burial site.   This article from an on-line journal gives  an interesting account of it’s history  in relation to a project  by the British artist Said Adrus  .

The site is in a different part of the Common from where I normally walk (the Common is bisected by three busy main roads)  and it wasn’t until late in 2010, when I first got a DSLR camera, that I decided to go and have a look at it. I was immediately taken by its tranquillity there amongst the trees, even though the main road was not too far away.

Muslim Burial Ground 2010

I was also dismayed by the nature of the graffiti  on some of the outside walls. I know the bodies and their graves were no longer there but it seemed like such a lack of respect.

In August this year there was an announcement that English Heritage were going to contribute 80% of the cost of renovating the site and it is intended that repairs will be completed in time for the 100th Anniversary of World War I.  There will be landscaping of the site with one suggestion so far that a meditation garden might be created between the walls.   I think that’s a wonderful idea which will suit the site well although I am concerned it will be even more vulnerable to vandalism.  I thought that the renovation could make a good longer term photographic project and decided to visit again before any clearing work started. It also seemed an ideal opportunity to take the converted IR camera as I thought that it could well suit the architecture.


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I think the IR effect does work well here for different reasons:-

  • In the first three images the softness of the ‘white’ IR leaves contrasts well with the austerity of the walls. For me it adds to the contemplative tranquillity of this site that is, in effect, a ghost of its former self and waiting to be given attention.
  • I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the graffiti on the walls on the fourth image.  I hadn’t noticed it at all when I was there.  Surely I hadn’t been concentrating so much on my camera that I missed it! Is this another effect of IR in that it brings out what’s been hidden?
  • On the fifth image the way I’ve composed it includes the intrusion of the power lines into the tranquillity but in a muted way.
  • In the sixth image the IR effect has brought out more of the hardness and alien nature of the pylon against the softness of the leaves. I gave it a more dominant position in the composition.

I decided I had to go back  and take my ordinary camera as well to check if I had just missed seeing the graffiti.  I wasn’t sure whether to put the image on Flickr even though I wanted feedback, because some of the graffiti looked Arabic and I had no idea what it might say. I decided to take the risk though and received some interesting feedback.

I remember noticing the pylon the very first time I visited the site, being annoyed that it was ‘in the way’ and composing photographs so that it didn’t appear.  This time I wanted to deliberately include it which shows how my attitude towards landscape photography is changing.  I started to think about people and places and how we treat them and also how we live alongside technology and get so used to it that we don’t notice it. I wondered which came first the creation of the burial site or the pylon and hoped that the pylon was only put there after the site was abandoned.  I then  began to muse on the idea of a project ‘Following the Pylons’.

The first step was to go back to the site with both the IR and normal camera for further investigation which will my next post. There have also been some very interesting comments on my previous post which are here  so I hope the debate will continue on this new post.






15 thoughts on “Continuing with Infrared : The Muslim Burial Ground

  1. Catherine

    I’d continue with the burial ground renovation as a long term project. I like the IR; but think you have to find a way to make your reason for using it come across more strongly—its justification as such—otherwise you might get told off for just ‘using’ it for ‘effect’. Does that make sense? But having said that, none of us get told off for using BW—and that’s also effect—and with digital that is post-processing ‘effect’—a decision made after the fact; whereas you make the IR decision before. I think I am going rund in circles—am I making any sense??

    • The article in the local paper stated that work would begin in late Autumn this year but it hasn’t started to happen yet. I just need to keep an eye on it. I’ll come to some conclusions about use of IR after I’ve written more on the pylons because I have another project in mind as well which could fit IR. My belt and braces approach would be to do both (and also straight b+w as Keith suggests)

  2. I love these images especially the first and the fourth Image. Your post has ignited an interest in IR and I am going to experiment a bit with the IR preset in light room for some of my images as well. I agree with Vicki in that I think the burial ground renovation could be an interesting long term project.

  3. It will be interesting to see how the same images look in ‘normal’ colour and IR. Might also be worth looking at a B&W image also. What strikes me about the images in this post is the way that with the IR images it is possible to see the background through the archway….

  4. From my background Catherine, I feel that you can use whatever method you feel appropriate to convey the meaning you want to convey. In that I’d include all sorts of things that might well look rubbish by normal standards. But I’d be wary of anything that looked like it was just used because it was assumed to be a good technique, so because of that I have a slight aversion to the kinds of things most people with a photography background start off liking.

    Anyway in my practise I would be asking myself what it was about the place/thing that interested me and trying to get deeper and deeper to that through being there, and research and reflection and making work, and I’d be trying to get my phtoographs to have my feelings in them by making the choices as intelligently as I could. Whereas and I know this might read a bit dodgy (It was recently strongly implied I was “nasty” on OCA forum!) – but anyway to me if you find a technique and then just use it because it looks nice to me that is visible in the imagery and looks “tricksy” to quote John!

    I just had this question, what would happen with a combined IR Holga thing?

    If I’m doing something I don’t know what to think about I turn it into an assignment as far as I can in order to get some tutor input on it, I was very pleasantly surprised by the last assignment which I was half expecting to be rejected as not being proper photography:-)

  5. Hello Catherine, I saw this and thought of you and I also followed one of Norma’s links and found this interview..
    “Why does infrared photography fascinate me? Partly it is because I like the way it emphasises inanimate objects in the landscape, crosses in graveyards overgrown with foliage for example. I love the way trees can look like rivers of fire dancing around obsidian branches and boughs.
    “Another reason is that no-one can say that it shouldn’t look like that – any flavour is equally valid.
    “Near-infrared behaves like visible light, whereas the longer-wavelength thermal infrared plays tricks, and will go through a bin liner but not glass, and can make a ball of hot air seem to be a solid object.
    “Near-infrared can be imaged using appropriately sensitised film and conventional digital imaging chips, whereas thermal imaging requires more specialised equipment, so it’s the near infrared spectrum we are interested in as photographers.
    “The colour which a visible object appears is a result of the amount of red, green and blue light that it reflects. The same is true with near-infrared, and with a few exceptions, the big one being foliage, most things have the same tone in infrared as they do in a normal mono photo.
    “The scattered light we see in the sky is made up of shorter wavelengths, which makes it look blue. The light is scattered by tiny particles in the air, which only affects shorter wavelengths. You can make the sky darker in a black and white photo by using a red filter. With infrared, the sky goes darker still. The clouds, however, are reflecting all the light and are as bright in infrared as they are in visible light. Since shadows are lit by open sky, and the open sky is dark in infrared, shadows are darker too.
    “Open water, such as a river or lake, reflects the sky, and so the water will also look dark. This is nothing to do with water absorbing infrared.
    “As film-based photographers knew back at the end of the 19th Century, it was actually difficult to get film to record red light and so it took some serious effort to sensitise photographic plates to infrared. When Professor Wood gave his RPS lecture in 1910, he had sensitised his own plates, since infrared film did not become commercially available until the 1930s.
    “Once available, though, it seems to have been popular in the mid-to-late-30s; evenAnsel Adams is reported to have shot a few infrared photographs – but he was, sadly, not enthusiastic. Logie Baird even designed and built an infrared TV system called theNoctovisor. Hollywood used infrared film for special effects, such as shooting night scenes during daylight.
    “At that time, there were a number of films available from various companies including Kodak, Ilford and Agfa, and there are still infrared films available today.
    “But it wasn’t until the arrival of digital photography that infrared enthusiasm really took off since it is relatively easy to take infrared shots with a digital camera – that is if you can overcome the infrared filtering built into your camera.
    “When I started my infrared photography website in the mid-1990s, there were very few of us about and the film was difficult to buy and fiddly to use. In recent years, it has spread and the web is brimming with fantastic infrared views of the world.
    “Since the 1930s a number of notable photographers have dabbled and even specialised in infrared photography. Minor White, for example, saw infrared as an extension of his exploration of tone in photographs.
    “The legendary Weegee took iconic photos of cinema audiences using infrared andElliott Landy took some great colour infrared photos of Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan (see above) and The Band in the late ’60s. More recently, Simon Marsden has produced a series of books on ruined and haunted buildings and Anton Corbijn used infrared film to shoot the cover of U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire. Infrared cameras have also shown us the goings-on in the Big Brother bedrooms and in the darkness of night on the African plains.” On a BBC link somewhere…

    There is a lot about the “what” and the “how” of IR and not a lot about the why. I know you will continue to explore and I will watch with fascination

    • Interesting interview. I had a search through Norma’s links but couldn’t find it – thought it was Simon Marsden but it can’t be because he’s mentioned. Andy Finney’s website (Invisible Light) is very comprehensive I think. Thanks for the other link (Andrew Gibson’s site) as well – the interview was interesting. I can identify with Luca Cesari’s desire to connect with the ‘inner beauty’ of his subjects and his use of infrared to provide a means of achieving this. Interestingly he writes about landscape and architecture rather than portraiture. I think I’m slowly beginning to formulate a response to this.
      I don’t understand your reference to truth in your other comment?

  6. Pingback: John Umney – Gesture and Meaning

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