PERE LACHAISE

300,000 bodies are buried there…

Père Lachaise Cemetery, the most expansive green space in Paris, was founded by Napolean I in 1804, shortly after a decree banished cemeteries to the capital’s margins. In the interest of health regulations the cemetery, officially named Cimetière de l’Est, was situated well outside the city limits, so far out, in fact, that Parisians hesitated to bury their dead on the new grounds.  City historians love to recount how Père Lachaise was salvaged through celebrity marketing when the cemetery’s administrators tactically moved the remains of Molière and La Fontaine to the site. The hoopla paid off, and other celebrity remains were transferred there until the cemetery’s eminence was judged uncontestable (today 300,000 bodies are buried there and countless remains are preserved in the columbarium). To say that we visited the cemetery to pay homage to Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde or Yves Montand is a bit of an overstatement, though celebrity sitings are secretly rousing in any form. Instead, we treated the cemetery –  its topography, streets, alleys, vegetation and crypts – as a city in miniature. Père Lachaise, its size and construct, allows for  the transcription of light and form with a minimum of perspectival distortion.   Staying small allows the eye to test a series of formal relationships quickly, to search for legible relationships between the interior and the exterior, light and shadow, to work on composition.