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“A lot of people see my work and say, ‘My, aren’t those spooky places,’” says D.C. native F. Allan Hockett of his photographs of burial vaults, cairns, and crypts. “But the places I shoot are more complicated than that. I’m interested in ambiguitythe combination of hope and loss that accompanies cemeteries.”
Hockett, 59, who has photographed architecture and ruins for more than three decades, insists that the 38 works appearing in “O Death, Spare My Name: Burial Monuments Ancient and Modern”now on view at Arlington’s Black & White photo labtranscend the tired graveyard clichés of ghosts and ravens perched in naked trees. Yet many of his pieces are distinctly Gothic, heavy on wrought-iron gates and lichen-flecked tombstones.
The exhibition covers 10,000 years of the human obsession with memorializing the departedfrom Stone Age Celtic cairns to the headstones of present-day Native Americans. Most of the photographs lack a human presence; some are mere abstract compositions of stone and sky. “I don’t think there’s any sentimentality in my work whatsoever,” says Hockett. Still, one photo in the show, of JFK’s funeral procession, taken in Washington in 1963, is highly narrative and personal, suffused with emotion.
Hockett attributes his interest in photography to his early work as an architect. “I see space differently from other people,” he says. “Architects have practice thinking about the world in three dimensions, and this manner of thinking translates well into photography.” Hockett got his first real experience with the camera while photographing modernist buildings for magazines during the ’60s and ’70s. Increasingly dissatisfied with architectural photography, he turned to other artistic subjects in the late ’70s. “Shooting other people’s buildings was like selling toothpaste,” he says. “You got paid to make buildings look prettier than they actually were.”
It was also his distaste for commercial photography that led him to exhibit at Black & White. “I hate gallery people,” he says, “because most care more about selling photographs than they care about the artist who created them. But [Black & White] isn’t like that.” According to Hockett, the studio gave him great freedom in designing the exhibit. “No one else would have let me pack so many photographs into one small exhibit,” he says.
In addition to photographing cemeteries and ruins, Hockett moderates a salon in Georgetown for experienced and novice photographers. The rules are simple: Anyone can come; no one can bitch. He hopes the salon will encourage artists from different backgrounds to support each other’s work; he would rather see lousy photographs than bury the hopes of a young new artist: “If I hear anyone come to Photo Salon and start disparaging somebody’s work, believe me, they’ll be out in a heartbeat.” Will Yandik
“O Death, Spare My Name: Burial Monuments Ancient and Modern” is on display at Black & White, 1916 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, to Nov. 21. For more information, call (703) 525-1922.