Lady in a churchyard

A Peaceful Moment in a Graveyard. (c) Richard Shears

I found her in a graveyard, sitting with a white dog on a tombstone. I had an hour to spare so I decided to sling a camera over my shoulder and wander around an old churchyard containing the graves of early pioneers to Australia. The ancient cemetery, in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, was totally deserted…except for the figure I noticed sitting on a tomb.

It was an extraordinary scene, so surreal. I slowly approached and asked if I could take a picture. She smiled and nodded in agreement. I took just four shots. I didn’t ask her to pose. I didn’t ask her to move. I just let her sit there because there was nothing, absolutely nothing, in the picture that I wanted to change. Everything worked. The overhanging branch provided an upper ‘frame’ and the gravestone on the right provided a perfect balance to the lady, the carved figure on the headstone adding to the balance, for she was facing my accidental model.

And she did indeed look like a model. Her strong features were enhanced by her shaven head, the position of her slender arm a copy of the pose adopted by her dog. If I had taken her into the graveyard for a photo shoot I don’t think I could have done better than the scene that I’d walked into by chance.

Four photos were enough. I had no right to impose further. She seemed to be so much at peace. The inscription on the nearby headstone – ‘Sacred’ – emphasised the stillness of that place. I ventured to ask her for her name: Heather.

I thanked her and wandered off. A short time later, as I made my way out of the churchyard, I thought I would thank her again. The tombstone was empty. The lady and her dog had disappeared.

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