Friends of the Dead: Photos of the People Who Work in London's Graveyards

A selection of new work from photographer Jess Cole.

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Jun 15 2016, 12:00am

Cemeteries have lots of admirers. Goths? Yes, obviously. Suburban bands shooting their first EP covers? Yep. The purgatorial souls of your deceased relatives, tethered to Earth for eternity? Yes, 100 percent.

But also other people – the anonymous men and women out there who keep the cemetery book industry afloat, who contribute to this helpful list of the "160 Must-Have Cemetery Books". Scrolling through that very list, it turns out there are a whole load of books about the history of certain graveyards, or photobooks focusing on tombstones and that kind of thing, but none about the good people who keep these places going.

For her new book Friends of the Dead, London-based photographer Jess Kohl filled that gap, meeting various graveyard managers, workers and volunteers, and taking their portraits. She sent us a few of those photos, which you can see below.

Jess Kohl is a recent Central Saint Martins graduate. You can see her work at her upcoming degree show, at Central Saint Martins in Granary Square, Kings Cross, from the 22nd to 26th of June.

Friends of the Dead is limited to 50 copies and available for pre-order through Jess' website.

Sarah, Visitor Assistant. Outside of Highgate, Sarah studies Forensic Psychology and volunteers in a prison. She has an interest in the macabre; she enjoys visiting cemeteries and is learning taxidermy. Volunteering at Highgate appeals to her for the unusual people it attracts.

John, Abney Park Trust Manager. John moved to Stoke Newington seven years ago. He had left his job and was unemployed, and would regularly wander around the cemetery. He offered his time as a volunteer, and was offered employment after five months. He has now been working at the cemetery for five years.

Dave, Highgate Cemetery Volunteer Landscape Gardener. Volunteering at Highgate provides Dave his perfect weekly shot of High Victorian Gothic, which has become essential to his general sense of wellbeing. He’s always loved cemeteries, and six years ago decided to give something back. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s most probably his favourite place ever.

Hayley, Volunteer Tour Guide. Hayley is a journalist and spends most of her time writing about death. She has wanted to volunteer at Highgate for about ten years. Her father illustrated the graphic novel ‘From Hell’, and Hayley feels that her obsession may have stemmed from the photos of dead prostitutes that were pinned up on his drawing board when she was tiny.

Agnes, Volunteer Litter Picker. In 2013, Agnes and 30 others collected three tons of rubbish that had accumulated in the cemetery along Stoneleigh Terrace. Ever since, she has made it her business to pick up anything that is chucked over the wall by people who don’t appreciate the beauty of the place. Her kitchen window overlooks the cemetery, and its calm and beauty gives her great pleasure.

John, Trustee. John has been associated with the cemetery since he came to the first “open day” here in 1976. He fell in love with the place. John buried his child here in 1986.

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