Statuary Portraits, Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Designed by a French engineer Próspero Catelin, the Recoleta Cemetery is Buenos Aires most compelling tourist attraction. Mirroring the sprawling metropolis outside the large stonewalls of the Recoleta, over 6,400 statues, stone coffins and burial vaults are crammed into the labyrinthine 14-acre cemetery. Opened in 1822, tall concrete, marble and black granite mausoleums in every conceivable architectural style line narrow walkways. Fueled by a dynamic agricultural export market, Argentina became an economic world power during the 19th century. In the 1880’s the Recoleta was redesigned and extended to its current configuration. At this time, Argentina’s political, military and business leaders built large French and Italian inspired homes in the neighborhoods near the cemetery. As a lasting sign of their wealth and influence, Argentina’s elite imported materials and architects from Europe to adorn their massive mausoleums lining the walkways of the Recoleta with stunning funereal sculptures. [1]

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Google Earth satellite view showing the large, tightly packed mausoleums and the maze of walkways in the Recoleta Cemetery set into the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aries, Argentina. 

Visiting the Recoleta Cemetery in December 2015, I was especially taken with the diversity of artistic styles displayed in Italian and French inspired sculptures. Wandering the narrow walkways through the cemetery on a cool morning, I photographed the life-sized statues guarding at the front, sides and rear and in some cases on the tops of the mausoleums. With over century of exposure to weather and urban pollutants, these haunting sculptures maintain their striking and expressive details.

Photographic techniques control how information is read in photographs. By using a tilt-shift lens, I was able to adjust the focus in the image, and established a hierarchy of focus and attention over the image. I was able to draw attention to the facial detailing of each statue and pull the sculptural portraits from the maze of details in one of the world’s most extravagant burial grounds. The soft focus draws the viewer attention to selective details of these extraordinary statues.



The Sony A900 with the LensBaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic: The lens is mounted on a ball socket which easily rotates side to side and up and down adjust focus across the image.


David Arnold

[1] Barbara Cansino, Cemetery For the Elite Of Argentina, New York Times, 1.10.1999.
See also: The Recoleta, The Offical English Website of Buenos Aires.
See also: AfterLife, a blog dedicated to the Recoleta Cemetery




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