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.