Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Empire of Death





If I were going to be in Southern California on September 24th at 7pm, I would take the opportunity to meet this guy. Dr. Paul Koudounaris (smaller images above, see complete slideshow of photographs by Mark Berry) is a professor of Baroque art history at California State University Dominguez Hills, and an event on that date is planned to launch his new book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses (Facebook page here). Although the official publication date is not until October, copies of the book will be available at this and subsequent events. Dr. Koudounaris will sign them and show a sampling of the hundreds of original photos he took for the book during his research in 20 countries* across 3 continents. In his author/artist statement, he writes:
"Some of the sites I studied are major tourist destinations and famous to this day, but many others are unheard of—located often in remote rural areas, and in some cases found by diligent research, in others by sheer accident. Among them were some which had never before been photographed. Other sites, no longer extant, were discovered in searches through archival material, but even these were sometimes reborn through the discovery of old prints or early photos. I never felt that the subject I was dealing with was death, and in presenting the sites I strove to recontextualize them for a modern audience which is all too inclined to view them as products of morbidity and despair. These sites were intended as statements of hope and beauty, and it was important to me that I find a means through photographs and the writing of history to convey that: these sites represent death only in so far as death itself affirms life."
So, if you want to meet someone who writes like this and looks like that - or if you just have an interest in decorative bones - get thee down to La Luz de Jesus next Saturday.

*Among them Austria, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland.

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