Bringing to life images of the past

An American teacher’s passion for photographing gravestones in Scotland is the focus of a major new exhibition in Edinburgh next week.

Sleep has been put together by Philadelphia art teacher and artist Bob Reinhardt who has been visiting Edinburgh for the past 10 years.

A selection of his 30,000 images will be specially mounted and enlarged for the exhibition in the City of Edinburgh Council's Central Library from 30 July until 1 September 2012.

The skills and knowledge of library staff have been instrumental in the planning and organisation of the free exhibition. Their knowledge and expertise in local history has been a key part of the project which has been a passion for Bob since he took his first photos on a walk through Warriston Cemetery in 2002.

Since then he has snapped thousands of photographs documenting gravestones in Scottish cemeteries, predominantly in Edinburgh.

Bob Reinhardt said: "The photographs represent the past ten years of exploring the historic cemeteries of Scotland, notably in Edinburgh.  These sites are extremely rich in visual treasure and my images document a theme of loss and eternal memories.

"They also address survival and the need for preservation. The photos bring to life a strength that continues to live on in these sacred places.  The monuments seem almost indifferent to the elements that continue to wear at their surfaces and challenge their structural integrity. 

"At the same time, nature is painting an entirely new palette and environment for them to exist in.  It is the collision and contrast of that ongoing confrontation that draws me into these sites. My camera has recorded a small slice of Edinburgh's history, culture, art and architecture."

Councillor Richard Lewis, Culture Leader for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "Graveyards are a very significant aspect of Edinburgh's cultural heritage.  In the past 20 or 30 years, there has been growing awareness that this vital part of Scotland's heritage was being lost through erosion and age.

"There is a recognition that we should be recording the history of these stones and I'm delighted to have Bob Reinhardt's images on show in the Central Library for what is one of the most unique exhibitions we have ever hosted.

"The exhibition is a welcome addition for the many visitors who will be in the city to explore their family history and will give residents a chance to see a fresh perspective on our past."

In addition a series of talks will be held in the Central Library to accompany the exhibition. Bookings can be made through the Eventbrite website.

The first one is called 'Eternal Images - An Artist's Journey from Fine Art Images to Historical Documentation' and is presented by Bob Reinhardt on 2 August at 6.30pm.

Some of Bob's work has also been included in the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland collection.

More information:

The Council's Criminal Justice section has been running a gravestone restoration programme since 2010. It involves offenders on Community Payback Orders and Community Service repairing damaged or broken headstones.

Around 200 gravestones have been restored to their former glory thanks to the project which first started in Liberton Cemetery. It has proved such a success that headstones in Grange Cemetery are now being restored and other Scottish local authorities are carrying out similar restoration work.

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