BookView Interview with Author Jane Hopkins

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Jane Hopkins, about her writing and her recently released, Cemetery Reflections, a beauiful collection that tells the story of life, death, and memories through stunning cemetery art photography. (Read the review here.)

“Step Softly, Here lies a dream.” This epitaph on a child’s gravestone in an historic cemetery in Canada sparked an interest in cemeteries that has resulted in the book Cemetery Reflections. For the past 10 years Jane Hopkins has photographed over 200 cemeteries in the eastern US and Canada. To Jane, cemeteries are a treasure trove of art created from stone by the carver’s tools. These sacred places represent the essence of someone’s life on earth and the loving memories of those left behind. To her surprise Jane has found kindred souls among all age groups as she wanders among the tombstones. She enjoys sharing these experiences as a member of the Friends of Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY, and the Association of Gravestone Studies in Greenfield, MA.

Jane’s educational background includes degrees in Psychology and Social Work, augmented by several years of coursework in digital photography at Rochester Institute of Technology. Her fine art photographs have been exhibited and sold since 2002. Jane lives with her husband Tom in Webster, NY on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Her website is https://cemeteryreflections.com

Connect with Jane on facebook https://www.facebook.com/janehopkinsphotography

Connect with Jane on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/cemeteryreflectionsbook

What inspired your appreciation of cemeteries?

I grew up thinking cemeteries were scary places.  I was 12 when my father died.  My brother and I went to the funeral, but we didn’t go to the burial service because it was considered too upsetting for us.  We had no other relatives close by, and we went to the cemetery only rarely because my mother found it so hard to cope.  It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I visited the cemetery again, and by then, the connection with my father was gone.  There was just a stone monument.

When my daughter was in college, her best friend committed suicide.  There was a thoughtful memorial service at the college, but my daughter needed more help in her grieving than the service could provide.  We drove 700 miles in the cold gray of November to find the cemetery where her friend Jenny was buried.  

At the cemetery, my daughter was able to connect with Jenny once more, to remember the good times and to say good-bye, as she hadn’t been able to do in the hospital emergency room.  After that my daughter started to heal.  As a result of this experience, my view of cemeteries changed.

Tell us a little about how the book came to be.

Shortly after my daughter’s experience, I visited an historic cemetery on Prince Edward Island and happened across a small headstone for a child.  The epitaph read, “Step softly, a dream lies buried here.” It was hard to fathom the hurt and grief the parents must have felt. 

Each town on Prince Edward Island has a cemetery filled with several generations of the community.  As I photographed these cemeteries I began to appreciate the unique designs of the carving as they changed through time.  The epitaphs on the headstones intrigued me, and I began to keep a record of them.

How did the book evolve?  

As I photographed more cemeteries, my interest shifted to the issues of grief for the families of the people buried there.  Just by chance I came across an anthology of poetry from the late 1800s handed down through my husband’s family.

That book had a large section of poems specifically about death and grieving.  I had never been particularly interested in poetry, but the sentiments were so touching, it felt like a perfect match for my photography.  As I researched more literature of the period, I began editing my favourite quotations to make them more readable for modern tastes.  Later I decided to supplement these with some family expressions of grief. And Cemetery Reflections took shape.

What makes this book important right now?

For many years the reality of death has been hidden away in hospitals and nursing homes.  The pandemic has generated a renewed awareness of death on a scale that calls to mind other tragic epidemics of the past.  Over a million people in this country have lost loved ones to the pandemic.  In addition, baby boomers are now experiencing not only the death of their parents, but for some, siblings and friends.

What makes this book different from other books on cemeteries?

Cemetery Reflections uses a traditional photography book format but goes further by adding epitaphs, poetry, and prose to express the emotion behind the monuments.  The book is designed in a free-flowing manner, much as what you would experience on a cemetery stroll, or when leafing through family albums and documents. 

Who will want to read this book? Aren’t cemeteries a downer?

Cemeteries hold our history. In the 19th century they were our first parks.  Some are peaceful places full of art and beautiful landscaping.  Others are the center of the community where people gather to care for their loved ones with plantings and mementos.  

When walking through a cemetery, sometimes you notice the carving, at other times the written sentiments; or perhaps you just absorb the mystery of it all.  While there, you may remember someone very dear, and the circumstances of their death. You many recall an experience of a loved one dying, or wonder about your own death.  It’s a safe place to reflect and find some perspective on life. 

Finally, tell us about the publishing process.  

I trained long and hard to do fine art printing and wanted a quality book that would reproduce my photographs clearly and accurately.  Searching out local printers, I found one that seemed perfect.  But the book was too expensive to print once the distribution cost was factored in.  The printer was exploring less expensive options for me when the pandemic hit, and paper and shipping costs skyrocketed.

After exploring some other options, I decided to go with a Print-on-Demand company that also handles distribution.  BookBaby was my final choice because their printing process is set up to produce a quality photographic book.

Cemetery Reflections is now on sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the BookBaby website.

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