Ad Infinitum by Kris Vervaeke

This is a selection from more than 1,000 pictures taken of portraits found on the tombstones in Hong Kong’s cemeteries

This is a selection from more than 1,000 pictures taken of portraits found on the tombstones in Hong Kong’s cemeteries.Cemeteries are essential features of Hong Kong’s cultural landscape. They are a symbolic place, powerful and feared.

A link to the afterworld. Burial sites are carefully selected in con­sideration of good feng shui.  The only prime property in Hong Kong that is deserted during most of the year. The Chinese avoid cemeteries and only visit during the Ching Ming and Chung Yeung festivals. When searching for Hong Kong landscapes, I stumbled upon these seas of graves with the cityscape in the background. Permanent Chinese cemeteries where tens of thousands of graves can be found. From early Chinese immigrants till today. These deserted cemeteries house many tiny portraits. Fading faces looking out at you from the headstones. Memorial portraits on porcelain that show the person in real life. Portraits, personal and often intimate, that were never meant to be used as a memorial. A single image selected to convey a whole life.

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In this book the portraits have been isolated from the headstones on purpose. Out of the context of the cemetery and away from the idea of death. The focus lies on the portrait itself, people in their present. Names and family history are excluded, out of respect for the ancestry and also to re-emphasize the impact of the individual anonymous face. Over time the portraits are exposed to rain, sun, extreme temperatures and humidity. The portraits become abstract. In the end, we are left with the simple abstract beauty of the image as such.

The portrait series in the book exposes both the strength of the individual face and the perishable nature of the individual human body. An inherent contradiction of our existence. The clear images make us want to connect, understand, and know the strangers and their stories. The fading images reference mortality of human life, and the limitations of our impact. Subconsciously, our interest in the individual fades as the portraits become less clear. It is quietly replaced by our draw to the beauty of the abstract image. We will be remembered only by the children of our children. As the faces fade further, anonymity returns and once again we become part of nature…ad infinitum. [Official Website][Ad Infinitum Book]

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Ad Infinitum’ book is shortlisted for the ParisPhoto-Aperture Foundation First PhotoBook Awards  2013

“is about the fugitive nature of portraiture, the impossibility of creating a final likeness. I just love looking at anonymous faces. Most of them are less here than gone, evoking thoughts of how we try, unsuccessfully, to fix people’s images in our minds. The book is beautifully and very simply designed, with the images given generous borders on pages that are evenly divided between black and white. It’s a simple yet lovely book.”

Vince Aletti 

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