The City of Immortals: Carolyn Campbell
By Genie Davis
Los Angeles-based artist and writer Carolyn Campbell is paying tribute to the City of Immortals, the massive and visually astonishing Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Launched on November 2nd in time for All Souls Day, Campbell’s project is two-fold: an extensive, beautifully rendered online tribute to the cemetery, and a detailed, print map that features three tours including the resting places of the most celebrated spirits in the park. Both the writing and photography are hers.
The project web site features an illustrated history of the cemetery, which was founded by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1804, as well as of the sculptors and architects who created the monuments. The site also offers information on the restoration of famous tombs, and a blog with guest contributors sharing their own stories and images. Visitors to Campbell’s site will also find an extensive resources page with recommendations for books and films about Pere Lachaise and other cemeteries to explore around the globe.
Campbell is in the planning stages of tours, lectures and interdisciplinary adventures focusing on the cemetery, as well as finalizing a browser-based GPS tour app of the location, available in 2018.
The Pere Lachaise is no mere cemetery filled with simple markers, rather it’s both an elegant, lush elegy to the departed and a vast outdoor museum of sculpture and architecture that reaches across two centuries. Spread over 107 acres, the labyrinthine cemetery is both solemn and joyful, a location that exudes mystery, is rich with ornate beauty. It is known as the final resting place for a wide array of luminaries, including Honore de Balzac – who sought the succor and peace of the place on long strolls when alive, Frederic Chopin, and the Doors’ Jim Morrison. From rock gods to icons such as Isadora Duncan and Edith Piaf, Pere Lachaise is the repository of greatness; perhaps both the most dramatic and famous cemetery in the world.
“It gives me great pleasure to share the beauty and mystery of Père Lachaise Cemetery with others,” Campbell explains, “The legacy of the cultural icons, rebels, intellectuals, innovators and rule-breakers buried there reminds me of the importance of taking risks and giving voice to whatever creative contribution you leave behind.”
Campbell’s fascination with the location began in 1981, when she attempted to find the tomb of Oscar Wilde. While she did not find Wilde’s resting place on her initial visit, she located the graves of so many other luminaries that she became fascinated with the cemetery, and returned a second time the next year to find Wilde’s monument.
“When you have limited time, it’s crucial to know where you are going and what you are looking for…yet, honestly, sometimes getting lost is as rewarding as arriving at your original destination,” Campbell says.
Mentored by the late New York Times art critic and Francophile John Russell, and with a decades-long cooperation from the French government, Campbell was further encouraged to explore the cemetery by personal connections such as Ray Manzarek, keyboard player of The Doors, and Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland, among them.
Having researched and studied the cemetery and taken exquisite photos of the location, Campbell decided to share her passion for Pere Lachaise in her online City of Immortals: The Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. The artist’s , is a gorgeous collection of words and images that captures the awe of the place, its legacy, its grace, its sense of peace and mystery.
Along with her voluminous online work, Campbell also worked with a professional cartographer to create and publish her three-tour map. Here, she features itineraries that include entrances to the cemetery and bus routes that take visitors to these points. Using the research material she gleaned from cemetery staff and others passionate about the Pere Lachaise, Campbell sketched charts and diagrams and located hard to find plots of cultural icons. Her print map stops by 77 of the most famous cemetery markers and tombs, and includes vivid, full-color photographs of these enchanting – and perhaps enchanted – spots. The large-format, full color, fold-out map may be ordered at .
Currently, Campbell is also part of Micol Hebron’s international traveling exhibition (en)Gendered (in)Equity: The Gallery Tally Project, on view through January 21, 2018 as part of Starless Midnight at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in London. Her photographs shot at Père Lachaise are among images representing the poor ratio of female to male artists exhibited in galleries worldwide.