Dana Salvo

August 3, 1995 - September 2, 1995

Image © Dana Salvo

Image © Dana Salvo

Image © Dana Salvo

Image © Dana Salvo

Image © Dana Salvo

Dana Salvo

Among the traces of history detailing the rites and rituals of ancient cultures one often discovers compelling testaments of how death and the dead became emblems and symbols of the society.

Now with technological advances we harvest volumes of information garnered from the skeletal remains of our distant ancestors. Height, bulk, shape, posture, and DNA strains are fed into computers , from which emerge a specific type of hypothetical and sanitized posthumous commemorative portrait.

Traveling these past years in other countries and cultures I have witnessed very poignant funeral methodologies much removed from our own. We do not embrace death as a friend , but battle it as an enemy. Twentieth Century Science and Medicine will triumph over the Grim Reaper 90% of the time (at least in the United States). Death is no longer the ultimate destination of life’s journey, but the result of a system failure. Or, worse, attributed to social/economic conditions.

In small village burial grounds faded photographs affixed to tombstones along with an assortment of mementos and personal belongings arranged as memorials attest to the strong links the dead retain with the living.

While photographing such an arrangement I was startled to find the bones of the beloved tucked in a box alongside the tomb. Seeking out the sexton of the cemetery I learned that this was a common practice shared by many around the world.

Briefly explained, following a traditional burial and a lengthy stay in the Earth, the remains of the dead are exhumed. The sexton will brush off the bones and place them in a cotton sack, and later in a box. He will then notify the next of kin. Otherwise, the contents of the casket will be stacked in a charnel house, or be deposited in a common bone well.

These photographs were made while in attendance with the sextons of several graveyards who so kindly granted me the privilege to contemplate this process. Becoming meditations upon remains and relics, the images are a calm and peaceful depiction of death and life reflecting one’s own mortality and destiny.