Haunting Photographs Of Decaying Portraits On Forgotten Tombstones

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For monograph Ad Infinitum, the photographer Kris Vervaeke captured small human likenesses etched in porcelain and affixed to hundreds of tombstones in Hong Kong. The dreamy book is potent for its simplicity; every page turn finds a blank white page fixed beside the a weathered portrait of an anonymous soul. Each capture magically veers from the photographic, entering a realm of abstraction evocative of fading memory. With every page, comes that same blankness, which functions to blur the portraits further, reminding the viewer that someday our own human faces will be washed away entirely.

The series works poignantly to make the reader forget—if only for an instant— that it is not composed of ordinary photographs of living, breathing people. Although the tombstones have been worn (in some cases more than others), the artist’s precise and intimate frame invites us to search for markers of human character; if we lose the eyes, we find glasses, and even amongst the faceless we discover hats. With each progressive photograph, the viewer clings to these signifiers of humanity, only to find him or herself frantically making meaning from the most impersonal cracked stone or chipped paint.

Ultimately, though, the images are not portraits but photographs of portraits, poignantly denying us any clear picture of who, when, or what these people were. A person dies. A body deteriorates. A portrait is chosen for a tombstone. A tombstone deteriorates. Someone takes a picture. With every progressive step, individual life fades bitterly into a mysterious realm just beyond our reach, Ad Infinitum. (via Lensculture and The Independent Photo Book)

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