I have always been drawn to cemeteries.
Perhaps the often-photographed location of a cemetery has always been ingrained in my photographer’s blood. Maybe the lure to explore them stemmed from my childhood memories of my mother speaking to her parents’ graves while we visited the quiet, tranquil space and my younger siblings and I examined the rows of nearby headstones. Above all, the way a community documents and celebrates the resting place of their loved ones is quite telling of the culture of its living population, and I always find myself documenting these plots of lands.
Last week, forecasted rains dampened my Memorial Day weekend camping trip in Southern Utah. Before heading back to town, my husband and I stumbled upon a little cemetery near Mormon-settled St. George in the somewhat ghost town of Silver Reef. It was there that we found the town’s Pioneer Cemetery, a small cemetery declaring the land to have graves of both Catholic and Protestant faith. Inside the divided cemetery, among weathered headstones and blunt grave markers were 32 graves marked “unknown.”
I jumped out of the truck with my camera as wind whipped around us and dark clouds moved in upon the small plot nestled at the foot of a mountain and sprawling country homes built over a 19th century silver mining town.
Sadness was palpable as I shot frames of uniform white crosses with unidentified bones buried beneath them. The hand-crafted markers were a small forest in an ordinary field. I took my time and moved around the land, while my husband walked our dog along the perimeter, knowing I needed space.
Although only a couple frames made the cut, I would like to think of these images as a small tribute to the miners and their families that lay below.
“Unknown” is a part of an untitled and ongoing series. Follow photojournalist Ronda Churchill on Instagram @rondachurchill