photo sharing and upload picture albums photo forums search pictures popular photos photography help login
Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Two: Travel Incongruities > Grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London, England, 1985
previous | next

Grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London, England, 1985

By using a long telephoto lens, I was able to compress the foreground, middleground, and background to make this enormous marble head of Karl Marx suddenly loom before us within a forest full of graves. Highgate, a wooded Victorian city of the dead sprawling in the middle of suburban London, is rich in such incongruities. This image places us in the midst of this dark and haunted forest -- the scale incongruity of the oversized head of Marx sends a shiver down our backs.

Four years after I posted this image on pbase, a blog entry about Karl Marx used this photograph as an illustration.
The blog discusses the history of Marx's two burials at Highgate Cemetery. You can read it at:

Olympus OM-2 ,Olympus 300mm
Scanned from Kodachrome transparency. full exif

other sizes: small medium large original auto
previous | next
Phil Douglis26-Jul-2005 23:16
Anna, thank you for your wonderful comment. This image has always been among my favorites - I made it a long time ago, and it has stood the test of time. Which is no mean feat -- I am very hard on my own photographs. But I felt much of what you felt as I made this and I still do. And thank you, Nanchito, for your comment as well. The scale incongruity of Marx's head was shocking and compelling. His ideas have certainly changed history and I like your concept of this being a grave for his ideas as well as his body.
Nanchito 26-Jul-2005 21:41
The great size of Marx´s head gifts an idea of his contribution to the understand of economy, filosophy and history.
This is not only the crave for a man: This is the tomb for the idea of being the most rich between the richest.
Anna 12-Jun-2005 04:01
When I saw this and and the title, I thought "Oh my." Something shocked me. Okay, not as in surprise, but "shock" as in...well, like electrified? The way it haunts. That face stared straight through, the overgrown greenery...I thought of it as Marx staring straight through time, through all the years that the world has been turned upside-down by his ideas, to this very present moment. It's like you could feel his undying presence right now. The way he's clearing illuminated, compared to the graves which are in only shadow, emphasizes his immortality through time. I love this.
Phil Douglis23-Dec-2004 21:49
Thanks, Mikel, for this comment. Just as you, I visited London's mysteriously haunting Highgate Cemetery a few years ago. Actually, it was more than a "few" -- try almost 20! At that time, of course, I was still using film -- Kodachrome, of course. And an Olympus OM-2 SLR. Talk about ancient history! I love shooting in cemeteries. As my wife is always quick to remind me, "my subjects never move or talk back!" Karl Marx sat still for me here -- I was struck by the incongruous size of his head more than anything else. It is by far the biggest "head" in that entire cemetery.

I knew that I had to contrast that head with a spooky context, so I walked far into the wooded part of the cemetery, putting on my 300mm telephoto lens to compress distance and create four levels of meaning. The blurred dark foreground creates a frame to pull the viewer into the image, and the bright green leaves at left create a contrasting middleground. I focus on Marx and the nearby gravestones just in front of the background, creating the focal point of the image. My fourth layer, the trees and dark tunnel behind Marx, provide a background that keeps the eye moving past Marx, deep into the gloom of his haunted domain.
Guest 23-Dec-2004 21:21
BTW, in a certain way you have canged the reality with the incongruence and gave it a good intentionality. ;)
Guest 23-Dec-2004 21:20
I was a fiew years ago in this cementery and it is realy impressive it is like an overbooking of burrials grave stones that are quite old and interesting enough to doo many photos pitie that I hadn't brought my camera and whent with a normal compact film one so couldn't doo too many marvelous photos of it. In this case, I recognize that you've managed to get the spooky part of it perfectly, the graves in the shadow of the trees and vegetation as in counterlight and the mighty head of Carl Max, because it is big, in the light like watching cerfully at wat you doo. "Philosophers have intended to understand reality but the question is to change it", or something like this, right? ;) four years make me doubt now.
Phil Douglis03-Dec-2004 20:49
I never thought of that message, Clara -- but you are right. I am sure Marx had no interest in who slept next to him for eternity. For him, there was no afterlife, no heaven, no hell, and no need to worry about his roommates.
Guest 03-Dec-2004 18:40
I read another incongruity. The man that said that "religion is the opium of the masses" is surrounded eternally by Christian crosses. What a destiny!!
Phil Douglis06-Nov-2004 20:13
Yes, Nut -- Karl is a long way from his biggest fans.
nut 06-Nov-2004 18:33
Only Karl Marx is here, nor for his people.
Phil Douglis28-Jul-2004 20:09
Thanks, Michael, for pointing out still another incongruity! Not only was it incongruous to discover this huge head sitting in the middle of a forest glade, but the political context you mention adds still another layer of incongruity. Thanks for bringing more meaning to my picture!
Guest 28-Jul-2004 18:33
Ahh the father of communism buried in a capitalist land. Incongruous and ironic. Beautiful, peaceful image.
Guest 22-Jun-2004 11:38
Workers of all lands, unite !
Nice shot.
Phil Douglis24-Nov-2003 23:41
Thanks for the comment, Marek. I guess this picture can offer room for two entirely different interpretations of immortality. Vanessa offered one view with her comment --the grave of Karl Marx becomes a metaphor for a "God like figure waiting at the gates." Someone else might say that Marx seems about to be absorbed by the forest that surrounds him. If not for the efforts of the cemetery keepers, he would soon be lost in the undergrowth. In this view, immortality is temporary -- all of us eventually become dust (or weeds in this case). No doubt, you can probably offer a third interpretation. And that was my intention -- to offer this image as food for thought.
Guest 24-Nov-2003 11:20
A powerful statement on immortality.
Phil Douglis14-Nov-2003 05:49
Hi, Nathan,

Thanks for your comment. Some images tend to prod the imagination.
This might be one of them.

nathan bailey 04-Nov-2003 22:39
Hi Phil Douglis,Iam Linda Baileys son..She had asked me to look at your work.I found myself lost in this piece.
Phil Douglis22-Oct-2003 19:48
Vanessa strikes gold again! A haunted scene, to be sure -- and reluctance, indeed! You see each symbol in turn, and weave a story from your imagination that articulates the very point I was trying to make, but did not fully realize it at the time.
Vanessa 22-Oct-2003 16:57
By the way, Phil, "Guest" was me.
Guest 22-Oct-2003 16:56
This picture seems to give the viewer a reluctant glimpse of the afterlife. The lush greenery symbolic of paradise, the cross headstones denoting faith, and if one didn't know it was Karl Marx, one could easily interpret the head of the man as a god-like figure waiting at the gates.
Phil Douglis18-Oct-2003 19:24
Thanks, Jane, for amplifying the role of scale contrast here, as well as tonal contrasts. I must have burned through five or six rolls of film shooting in Highgate Cemetery when I visited it nearly 20 years ago. There were pictures to be made everywhere I looked. But this is the image that lingers in the imagination, and that's why it's here on pbase. Phil
Guest 18-Oct-2003 15:12
this image may be small in size but not in content. It is enormous.
The darkness in the foreground and sides draws viewer in..
Type your message and click Add Comment
It is best to login or register first but you may post as a guest.
Enter an optional name and contact email address. Name
Name Email
help private comment