A Note from the Editor:
Many of the photographs you will see in this issue are from Asher — no last name, simply as is. Asher is a sculptor from near Detroit – close to where I grew up – and his photography is awe-strikingly beautiful in the darkest, saddest ways. This is a photo essay of his collection ‘Toy Box’, which are snapshots of time passed in the forms of stuffed animals on children’s graves. It’s unsettling, so consider this my disclaimer. But it’s also wholly original, gut-wrenching work. It is a mesmerizing look into life at its most crippling. — Jason D. Ramsey
I focus a great deal on abandonment and loss in my photo work. I enjoy how macro pulls the details out of things we would otherwise pass without a second thought.
Quite a few years back I found a doll on a child’s grave and realized I’d been stepping over similar memento mori for a long time. I started to focus on those items left on graves. Soon I came to realize I find about 1 plush toy for every 5 cemeteries I visit. This ratio has remained consistent for more than a decade now.
The Toy Box series is exclusively an essay about toys on the graves of children. I find the duplicity of these things to be fascinating. We’re often met with emotions of contradiction and this series is a prime example for me of some core duplicitous emotions and values we carry; beauty and grotesque, joy and pain, love and hate, these are so inextricably tied to one another that it’s impossible to find one without being haunted by the other.
While I find the images graceful and beautiful, I cannot help but hear echoes of the overwhelming loss to these people. In that grief they have given rise to memorials that are exactly what they try to hide: something cute and adorable left to rot and turned grotesque. Alone, shooting these vignettes, I often wonder about the frozen moments I am witness to and am left wondering if the living were ever able to heal from this loss.
While I don’t often revisit shooting locations (I figure the day of shooting is my singular opportunity) I do have a few sites that stayed with me so strongly I did go back. I find the family rarely seem to return to pay homage, instead we’re left to find these haunting moments cemented in their lives.
Personally I feel that we as people are a collection of our stories and everything we do is in support of either creation, preserving, or sharing these moments. The Toy Box set leaves me with a host of questions about the families, about this frozen moment, about how they dealt with it, and about how it stole the lives of the survivors as much as the deceased. We have such a scant sliver of time in this life that anything stealing from that seems to be the true horror of humans. This series has been a great meditation for me to face my own mortality and not just that of others. It has given me a chance to learn; finding beauty in the grotesque, joy in lamentation, release in pain, and grace during loss. We will all be gone far sooner than we’d like. The focus from this essay has taught me the fragility of my life. It’s also given rise to story and narrative that I was unwilling to share previously. I can only hope this art gives others pause to refine their focus and celebrate the most macro of moments.