Cemetery Gates

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It may sound a little strange but  I have a great love for cemeteries. For me they provide a place for calm and reflection in the heart of our towns and cities, a welcome retreat from the frantic pace of city living.

They also offer a vital habitat for our urban wildlife, supporting a wonderful range of biodiversity, including foxes, badgers, deer, songbirds, as well as flora and invertebrates.

So with autumn finally taking hold I decided to spend some time working in a local London cemetery.  It felt like  the perfect time to do it,  the season of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ as Keats memorably described it echoing the pervading melancholy mood of the place.

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This particular cemetery has a good population of Jays. I have a particular affection for the Corvid family, so this provided a great opportunity. Fiercely intelligent but shy birds, at this time of year they make themselves busy gathering acorns, cashing them in readiness for the approach of winter. I love their vivid colours and that flash of electric blue on their wings.

I had this particular shot, of a Jay perched on a gravestone with an acorn in its bill sketched out in  in my mind from the outset of the project. It took me a few weeks to try to achieve though. I thought I had nailed it on the first day only to find when I came round to processing it, it just wasn’t sharp enough for my liking. I’m pretty much obsessed with sharpness. It’s very annoying. However good the shot is. if it isn’t tack sharp then it invariably ends up in the recycling bin. It only takes that little bit of head movement to spoil the image. Being shy, nervous birds Jays tend to do that a lot.

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The first and last shots presented here are the ones I’m probably the happiest with. Achieved on the  final day of the project (again!). The light was perfect and I love the burnished autumnal colour of the background in the first shot that opens the blog in particular.


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It wasn’t all about the jays though. The real stars of the project were that much maligned of  species, the Grey Squirrel. At this time of year they are also busy searching for provisions before winter sets in. This particular squirrel was great fun to watch as he gathered conkers (horse chestnuts) in the fallen leaves. Big mouth strikes again!

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Click on image to enlarge

Gravestones provided a useful look out perch for the squirrels. Out of respect, I was particularly mindful when photographing  to avoid  shots of graves that would identify the person laid to rest.

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click on image to enlarge

This next squirrel liked sitting in a small ornamental cherry tree, which was great for getting level with him.

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This next shot is another of my favourites of the project. This particular squirrel helpfully posed in the same position for a couple of minutes pausing for a minute to look at me as he scurried down the tree. Long enough even for me to get a nice sharp shot. He was probably wondering what on earth I was up to lying there at the bottom of his tree!

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When I wasn’t lying down on the job, I seemed to spend a lot of the project hanging around bins! It’s hard work trying to create an aesthetically looking shot involving a bin believe me. This next shot though is Preslava’s favourite shot of the project and always makes her laugh. I can’t think why…

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… Bin raider caught in the act!

I have to confess that this particular mini project kind of crept up on me.   I just ended up having a great time with it and naturally gravitated back to it to the detriment of what I was supposed to be working on at the time (which will form the subject of a separate blog). At the same time, I developed a real affection for the squirrels themselves. Love  them or hate them the Grey squirrel is here to stay. Each of them had a distinctive personality all of their own. In the end I had to make a conscious decision to stop the project to be able to start on my winter projects otherwise I’d probably still be there now.  As I packed up for the last time and made my way to leave before the park wardens locked the cemetery gates, I had squirrels bounding towards me from all directions. Surrounded by the stars of the project,  it brought a bit of the lump to the throat. I promised them I would be back. And I will. How could I resist with those forlorn eyes looking up at me.

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This blog entry is dedicated to a friend who was a great help on this project. They know who they are.

This is the last set of new images for the next few months as I start work on my winter projects. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has taken the time to stop by and comment. It’s been a great year.  Finland was wonderful with the Black Grouse in winter before returning in the summer to see the bears and their cubs with Natures Images. A trip which Preslava and I will never forget . More than anything though I’ve enjoyed working on my own  four personal projects: Barn owls,  Red grouse. the Red deer rut, as well as  my ongoing urban work. I’ve got some great new projects lined up in the next year. I look forward to sharing them with you. Should be louder than bombs.

This entry was posted in Wild Britain - Autumn, Wild London. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Cemetery Gates

  1. Peter Maris says:

    Nice piece I liked it. Very nice colours and the grave stones give a totally different feel to it all.

  2. Penny Dixie says:

    I absolutely love the last 2 red squirrel images and ’54 years’ – these are really original! Great work Jules!!
    I’m inspired to work my local cemetary which is probably just up the road from you but I don’t feel comfortable lying on the ground on my own with a few thousand quids worth of gear with me. How do you get round that? I need a fellow photographer or somebody to watch for my back!

  3. Matt Preece says:

    Excellent shots mate – you keep pulling them out of the bag. Urban wildlife may be “deceptively hard” but you make it look quite the opposite! First and last shots have to be my favourite too.
    Grey squirrels, as you know, are a controversial subject but if you spend some time with them and get past the ‘pest’ stigma then you find quite an endearing and resourceful little character – traits which you captured… nice work!

  4. Ian Haskell says:

    Nice work Jules. I really like that first Jay – I’ve seen six today in Sunny Norfolk although just glimpses. Also like the characterful squirrel sitting in the bin edge. You’ve had some super shots this year!

    • jcoxfoto says:

      Hey Ian

      Thanks for saying such nice things. They’re my favourites also. Really appreciate you always take the time to look and leave a comment. You haven’t had a bad year yourself ;)

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