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Robert Kawika Sheer ~ Graveyard Spirits ~ Woodlawn Cemetary

1:40 PM PDT on October 26, 2006


Robert Kawika Sheer @ Woodlawn Cemetary 

"Graveyard Spirits is an 80 minute single exposure photograph taken between midnight and 1:20am at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.  No PhotoShop. No multiple exposures.  The performance of this photograph is a completely solo endeavor.  During the night exposure, Sheer walks into the frame of his shot to create all the figures using a portable lighting device held in his hand.  For each figure, he changes into a costume, travels into the frame, strikes a pose, and quickly creates a circle of light on the wall of a tombstone located behind him.  Sheer even poses as the widow -- creating the female figure by borrowing his wife's shawl and flowers. 

It takes about forty minutes to create all the characters in front of the tombstones.  Then another forty minutes is spent sitting next to the camera allowing the moonlight to continue brightening the scene to make the graveyard visible.  Sheer's photographs are often called theatrical undertakings and this is his finest example, -- involving many costume changes and well-practiced choreography; in fact, he often refers to the frame of his shots as the 'proscenium' and the accessible areas as 'the stage'.  The performance of this photograph is one of nine separate attempts at creating this shot over a three night period.  On the first night, Sheer had only one character to experiment with -- the Dickensian gravedigger.   While dressed up as the gravedigger, the Santa Monica Police drove into the graveyard on their nightly patrol and almost arrested him.  The police also made an appearance on the third night inadvertently pointing their car's headlights into the lens of the camera and ruining the seventh overall attempt forty minutes into the performance.  Despite this setback, the third night was to be the magical night.  The very next exposure produced the above image.  Everything came together perfectly and the addition of the widow character on the third evening provided the spiritual female balance that the composition required.  Not being able to immediately view his success, he performed a ninth exposure from 1:40 till 3am.  Perhaps Sheer's highest compliment regarding this piece came from his cinematography peers who refer to Graveyard Spirits as an hour and twenty minute-long motion picture captured on a single frame of film.  If Sheer is creating one-frame motion pictures, then not only is he creating "film haikus" as one cinematographer suggested, Sheer is also creating the most inexpensive motion pictures ever made.  To learn more about the technique, click here. --all rights reserved"

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