Story By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
Photos Courtesy N.O. Catholic Cemeteries Office
A group of statues atop a tomb in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery No. 1 tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion from an unusual perspective.
While Mary is seen in her typical posture of kneeling at the foot of the cross, her back is turned to her dying son and she looks outward, as if to share her grief with the world.
Standing at opposite sides of the cross, St. Mary Magdalen and St. John turn their gaze to the crucified Jesus, who appears small and thin, in stark contrast to his robust friends.
This sculpted rendition of Calvary caught the photographic eye of Romi Bahman at an interesting moment: a recent rainfall had left a series of puddles on the ground below, creating a mirrored effect inside the cemetery.
“You have the overall scene, which is already so captivating, but then you also see it reflected in the water – there was something about it that caught our attention,” said Sherri Peppo, executive director of New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries, announcing that Bahman’s black-and-white photo of the Calvary scene at St. Vincent de Paul had garnered first prize in a summer photo contest sponsored by her office. Two first-place-winning photos and 10 honorable mentions – each taken inside a New Orleans Catholic cemetery – will grace the office’s 2020 wall calendar.
Attracted 20 shutterbugs
Peppo said she was thrilled that Bahman’s photo, which took top honors in the contest’s “adult” division, was taken inside St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery on Soniat Street, in the Uptown neighborhood behind Newman School.
“It’s a very nice, quaint, little cemetery, but not a lot of people are familiar with it,” said Peppo, adding that another of Bahman’s contest submissions – a closeup of a dragonfly lighting on a cross at St. Charles Cemetery in Luling – also earned an honorable mention.
More than 20 photographers submitted a total of 50 photos to the inaugural photo challenge, Peppo said. The 12 that made the final
cut for the upcoming calendar, which were selected by a panel of three judges, were rated on their content, composition, photographic skill and overall appeal.
A snapshot of a sunbeamlit statue of Mary inside St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, taken by 12-year-old Ava Lowe of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, earned first place in the contest’s children’s division, while Ava’s closeup of an angel statue in the same cemetery received an honorable mention.
Ava’s 9-year-old sister, Eleanore Lowe, also netted an honorable mention for her overhead shot of a decorative angel inside St. Louis No. 3. The Lowe sisters’ father, Brian Lowe, completed the trifecta by capturing an honorable mention for his haunting black-and white image of cross-decked tombs in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery.
“The contest really became a family project for them,” Peppo said.
New angles on old tombs
The rules of the contest were simple: the photographic entries had to be taken at one of the six cemeteries operated by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which encompass St. Patrick, St. Louis, St. Roch, St. Joseph and St. Vincent de Paul cemeteries in New Orleans; and St. Charles Cemetery in Luling. The two first-place winners received a cash award of $75, while the 10 honorable mentions took home $25.
As a 30-year veteran of the Cemeteries Office, Peppo knows New Orleans’ historic burial sites better than the average resident; however, Peppo admitted that some of the entries brought to light architectural features that even she had never noticed. She said these “discoveries” included a “holding hands” sculpture at the peak of a fern-strewn tomb inside 230-year-old St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, captured through the lens of contest participant Ashley Horton.
“I don’t recall seeing that sculpture (while) walking though St. Louis No. 1, so now I have to find that tomb,” said Peppo, who was struck by yet another photo submitted by Horton: a shot of one of the in-ground street markers that help visitors find their way around St. Patrick Cemetery Nos. 2 and 3 on City Park Avenue.
“No one notices (the markers), but they’ve been there forever,” Peppo said, praising Horton’s deliberate use of expired film to lend a vintage look to the shot.
Also intriguing Peppo was Cathlyn Hyatt’s close-up of an above-ground tomb in St. Patrick No. 1 executed in a masonry style called “granite sparl,” in which irregularly shaped chunks of granite are grouted together like puzzle pieces. Hyatt’s photo revealed that the tomb’s mason had incorporated a cross-shaped piece of granite in a side wall – a detail that only the most eagle-eyed visitor would spot.
“Never have I seen this done on the side of a tomb! Whoever constructed that tomb intentionally (cut) the granite in that shape!” Peppo marveled. “The contest showed how easy it is to overlook these beautiful details in our cemeteries.”
To appear in 2020 calendars
The Cemeteries Office hopes to have 500 copies of its 2020 calendar available for pick-up at the following locations by October: St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, 3124 Esplanade Ave.; St. Patrick No. 3, 143 City Park Ave.; and the office’s main headquarters at 1000 Howard Ave., Suite 500. The calendars, which will be offered at no charge, will be available on a first-come, first-served basis (none will be mailed; one copy per family, please).
To view the photos of all 12 contest winners, please visit the New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries Facebook page. The contest will be an annual event.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.