The Last Home – and the Ethics of Flying Above it

While cemeteries are inherently somber places, they can be beautiful too. Žale – the largest cemetery of Ljubljana – are both.

(Northwestern part of Žale cemetery – ‘New Žale’ – with urn and coffin burial plots. The hills on the right are a place for scattering ashes.)

First burials were performed here in May 1906, and as Ljubljana was growing, the cemetery was expanding too. Large parts of Žale are dedicated to casualties of all sides in the World War I, and there are mausoleums of war heroes, air disasters, and famous artists.

(At the top of the picture is Gramozna jama – ‘gravel pit’ – Memorial, the place where the fascist occupying forces shot Slovenian hostages during the World War II.)

The southeastern part was designed by the famous architect Jozef Plecnik, and represent one of the most original solutions of cemetery architecture in the 20th century. Plecnik’s Žale – All Saints Garden received the label of European Heritage / Patrimoine Européen as an extraordinary model of respect and a democratic attitude towards those who have passed away, as the architect originated squarely from the heart of the European cultural tradition.

(Ash scattering area of New Žale.)

The northwestern extension was designed by Marko Music in 1998.

We were planing to do a kite aerial photo session above Žale for quite a while. The first idea was to shoot it at night, with thousands the candles flickering, however it proved unfeasible (at the time).

Yet when we finally managed to go there, to unfurl the kite and let it fly, it felt – wrong. We just couldn’t brought ourselves to fly the kite directly above the graves. As if the kite (and the camera) would disturb the dead souls, we had an ethical conundrum. On one hand the cemetery is beautiful and well worth a picture – there are plenty of superb photos of Žale – and on the other hand shooting it felt invasive and disrespectful.

We did the shoot anyway, but with the kite directed away from the cemetery (that’s why the photos are tilted and poorly framed – well, the wind was strangely turbulent too). But the ethical dilemma remains – and we discovered that there are places that you just can not fly happily above and snap away the photos.

Even if you do it with a silent, humble kite.

All photos taken with Nikon 1 J1 on a Great White Delta kite.

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