Prague / Olšany Cemetery

One of the places I love most in Prague is Olšany Cemetery.

When I lived in Zizkov, I would go there often. I lived nearby and one of my joys was getting up early in the morning, grabbing a coffee and croissant along the way and spending a couple of hours wandering through Olšany with my camera in hand.

I preferred to photograph in the older, more historic parts of the cemetery where ornate tombs lay abandoned and statues of angels and elaborately carved gravestones stood crumbling, overgrown with ivy and ferns. Beneath my feet I could feel the roots of the old trees pushing up beneath the soil, wrapping themselves around the edges of the graves and iron fences, forcing them upwards. Above, the entangled bent branches of old trees formed arches like tall church windows and the crumbling stone softened the gaze and posture of the stone angels, making them more human-like.

As the seasons shifted, so did the views. In fall and winter, the leaves fell away to reveal pieces of the cemetery I hadn’t seen before only to grow back over the parts I had.

Here for the first time, I witnessed how nature, left to its own devices, would eventually draw everything back into itself in an act of regeneration. This shape-shifting is what I loved.

It was here that I first learned to photograph. I would place the camera in front of my eyes and try to capture the beauty I saw using different ISOs, f-stops and lenses. I experimented. I allowed myself to get lost.

February and March were my favourite months to visit the cemetery because this is when the crows would return en masse. One of my favourite memories is watching a murder of crows circling, cawing and then spiralling down to feed on bread that an old woman had laid out for them. There must have been fifty to a hundred crows.

Olšany, despite being a place of death and sadness, was also teeming with life.

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