The CSM graduate and winner of last year's L'Oréal prize on his gravestone rubbings
For AW13, I wanted to do something different to my MA collection, something cleaner but still emotional and chaotic. I recalled some samples I'd made a few years ago at The London Brass Rubbing Centre, located in the underbelly of St Martin-in-the-Fields. They involved using wax to rub an engraved image onto Tyvek, a paper-like synthetic fabric with a soft underside. At the time the idea didn’t go anywhere, but I saw that it had a certain poetry in its simplicity.
I realised that the same thing could be done with gravestones, to perhaps an even more thought-provoking and striking effect. It emerged that there are many unusual headstones located in New England, USA, which had been carved by the early settlers (late 17th and 18th century stones). The Farber Gravestone Collection, which documents over 9,000 unique headstone images in the area, was a fascinating resource.
Using that and FindaGrave.com as a treasure map, I set off for America in December. Gravestone rubbing is a contentious activity. Some people believe that it subtly damages the stones even when performed with every precaution. Others consider it an affront to the dead. I resolved to be very cautious with my crayon and to thank the residents with a gentle pat on the headstone and a word of gratitude.
Despite having amassed perhaps 40 rubbings of varying sizes, only certain ones seemed to work on the body, proportionally, texturally and photographically. The construction of the collection was about how to best project this idea of the memory of these departed bodies in relation to the living wearer.
Photography courtesy of Luke Brooks