I was meditatively visiting St. Paul’s Chapel in 2005, on the very edge of Ground Zero, whose wounds were then still very raw, and stepped in to the graveyard, which had been buried in debris from the adjacent towers, although the church itself miraculously escaped without a scratch. The Chapel became the 24-hour care centre for the first responders and, sadly, a means of forensic identification of many lost firemen by way of checking the owners of the daytime boots which had been hung on its railings when the firemen rushed to change into rescue gear.
The Chapel is the oldest surviving church building on Manhattan, having been built in 1766 and still maintains the pew where George Washington regularly worshipped, when he was serving as first President in the then capital, New York.
These thoughts were front and centre, when I stopped to admire a play of light and shadow on one of the tombs in the, now pristine, freshly-grassed cemetery. I captured it with my Nikon D70, the first digital camera I have ever used, and stepped forward to find out who had been laid to rest there. I marvelled to discover that it honoured a French colonel, who served America both in the Revolutionary War and who chose to return to more honourable service to the Army until he retired and ended his days in America.
I could not help pondering the irony of the modern death toll swamping the ancient residents of St. Pauls, followed by the immense tragedy of the following period. It was truly comforting to see the return of respectful quietness and peaceful remembering of the dead, ancient and modern.
Le Sieur de Rochefontaine
His brief bio (with thanks to Wikipedia) is:
“Stephen Rochefontaine (February 20, 1755 Ay, Marne France – January 30, 1814 New York City) …was born Étienne Nicolas Marie Béchet, Sieur de Rochefontaine.
…came to America in 1778 after failing to gain a position in the French Royal Corps of Engineers. He volunteered in General Washington's Continental Army on May 15, 1778 and was appointed captain in the Corps of Engineers on September 18, 1778. For his distinguished services at the siege of Yorktown, Rochefontaine was given the brevet rank of major by Congress…
He returned to France in 1783…, reaching the rank of colonel in the French Army. He came back to the United States in 1792 and anglicized his first name to Stephen. President Washington appointed him a civilian engineer to fortify the New England coast, in 1794.
After the new Corps of Artillerists and Engineers was organized, Washington made Rochefontaine a lieutenant colonel and commandant of the new Corps on February 26, 1795. Rochefontaine started a military school at West Point in 1795, but the building and all his equipment were burned the following year. He left the Army on May 7, 1798, and lived in New York City, where he died January 30, 1814”
My joy with this image arose from the very strong light on the grass, which seemed to flow from the glowing section in the front into the subtle shadows behind. The gravestone imposed itself on the viewer, almost shouting “remember me!”, I thought. The specks of seeds on its surface reflected the “from dust to dust” emphasis of the funeral service and the darkness of the sides and adjacent graves spoke of the long, dark sleep of the dead.
The image was remarkably fine for a “little” sensor of an early model digital SLR. I was very happy with the original colour rendition and the image only required a little sharpening and lightening of shadows and a minor crop for my aesthetic preference to focus more on the Colonel’s tomb.
Camera: Nikon D70
Lens: 18-70mm AF-S DX zoom f/3.5 G IF-ED
Focal Length: 62mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
Shutter Speed: 1/640s
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Auto
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 400
I hope that you too “feel” the connection of image-making to time and place, as I so often do. Please take the trouble to sample other images which touch me in this way on the rest of my website.
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