Watching the heartache of family after family say goodbye to their loved one hasn’t been easy. I’ve been spending most of my days in Cementerio De Cristo Rey photographing gravediggers as they build tombs and bury the dead.
I have never seen mourning like this. The cries, screams and fainting speak volumes about Dominican culture. They aren’t afraid to show their emotions , and there is power in that.
The challenge is trying to focus on a single aspect. Originally I was going to take a gravedigger’s perspective and tell the story through his eyes. But then I witnessed an exhumation, where a body is removed from a tomb and thrown in a trash bag to make room for someone who has just died.
On an island, it all comes down to space. Families buy a spot for the first burial. Over time, as more family members pass, the tombs are expanded vertically until the dead are stacked up to five-tall.
But without sufficient funds, families must dig up their loved ones to make room for another.
The first exhumation I saw was a mistake. The family had been separated and without telling any of the children, the father consented to exhume the mother’s body to make room for distant relatives who let the family borrow the tomb years prior.
The mix-up upset everyone and was resolved by placing the mother back in her tomb in a black plastic garbage bag. The family built another tomb on top.
Seeing how much pain this caused a group of people struck a chord with me. The dead matter, but in Cementerio De Cristo Rey, the dead don’t always rest in peace