If you truly love someone, impress her with this magnificent book. It’s 12×15 inches and chock full of black-and-white photos of grave monuments in New Orleans. Cook focuses on the old favorites of Metairie Cemetery’s lovely marble maidens and Holt Cemetery’s handmade tributes, but she also ranges into the less-often viewed St. Louis #3 and St. Patrick cemeteries, documenting beauties where even a dedicated cemetery maven might fear to tread.
Cook’s kooky perspective initially disorients the viewer. Often her photos are tilted to the left, swaying drunkenly across the uneven ground. Cook is fascinated by telling details on the monuments before her: the lopped-off branches on a wrought-iron fence, the grain of stone in an angel’s robe, the words “No Fer-goat” hand-lettered on a board, the stone feathers on a broad-chested double-headed eagle, the tendons crossing the back of a bronze hand, the coils of a maiden’s ringlets. The elements that capture her attention make this wonderfully idiosyncratic book a window into the soul of the artist behind it.
In addition to some truly spectacular photos of angels and muses, Cook features some pinnacles of ironwork. I don’t remember ever seeing such a fine collection of it elsewhere. She also turns her camera onto broken tombs and vandalized statuary which, in perspective of the wonders surrounding it in this book, make the damage that much more poignant. She drives her point in the most telling way possible.
Also included in the book are Cook’s beautiful pencil sketches, a brief historical essay of each on the nine graveyards she visits, a key to cemetery symbolism, and a bibliography.
This huge book is clearly a labor of love. It’s worth finding space on your shelves for it.
This review originally appeared in Morbid Curiosity #6, after I met Cook at the Association for Gravestone Studies’ conference in San Francisco.
There are some bargain-priced copies at Amazon: Consecrated Ground: Funerary Art of New Orleans