During the Covid lockdowns I had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona, right between the first and second waves when everyone thought we had just about beat it and vaccinations were not yet a major point of discussion. In preparation for my trip, I made a list of some of the most interesting places that I could shoot, and that were open and available to the public as the Covid restrictions had just started to set in and many places were closed.
One of the places that was always open during Covid was the Pueblo Cemetery, home to many amazing statues including the “Kiss of Death” that is relatively famous online. This amazing sculpture was a must have for the Soulbank collection and so made it on my list.
Getting around Barcelona is not that easy, as the city is a huge sprawl typical of most large Spanish cities. Fortunately I purchased a Miaomi Pro scooter that was easy to transport as it folded up in my car and I was able to use it to get around the city quite easily as I moved from shoot to shoot.
Poblenou’s Cemetery is a very old Spanish cemetery originally built in the mid 18th Century and rebuilt and extended in the 19th Century. It is filled with extravagant Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic tombs, mausoleums and Gothic chapels built by some of the richest families in Barcelona.
It can be found in a low-class area of the city down by the seaside near to the port and ghettos (yes Europe has ghettos), and is quite far from the city-center. Google maps had the cemetery as a 1 hour walk from my hotel but it took less than 20 min to get there by scooter, which is a great way to find other items to shoot and really is also just a lot of fun.
Once I got there, locating the Kiss of Death was quite a challenge, as the cemetery is a huge labyrinth made up of 3 large sections each with multiple subsections all connected by small corridors. The surrounding walls have 7 rows filled with Spanish burial niches and it’s quite difficult to find you way around. The statue is also located in the original part of the cemetery which is quite broken down and dilapidated.
The Kiss of Death is quite stunning and hard to miss when you finally find it. It is a large lifelike marble statue depicting an angel of death carrying a man’s soul to heaven. It was designed by Joan Fontbernat and sculpted by Jaume Barba’s workshop in 1930. You can find it at the top of an old stairway that leads to a large burial ground which contains over a hundred other tombs of different sizes and shapes, most in an advanced state of decay due to their age.
The sculpture is found above the grave of the textile manufacturer Josep Llaudet Soler and was created in 1930 so it is not that old. It consists of two parts, the first is the base which contains the tomb and is made of dark brown Spanish stone. It has an inscription running down the front of it that says “His young heart is thus extinguished. The blood in his veins grows cold. And all strength has gone. Faith has been extolled by his fall into the arms of death. Amen.”.
The other part is the statue which is made of bright white marble and sits on top of the base. It portrays Death as a large angel with bat-like wings kissing the cheek of a man who is held tightly in his hands. The level of detail is amazing, from the face and eyes of the man down to the impressions that Death’s fingers have on his arms as if they are really held tightly in his grip.
While the sculpture of the man is very impressive, it is Death that steals the show as he is powerful, stunning and breathtaking at the same time. He holds his unwilling participant tightly, in an encompassing and encroaching stance that gives the feeling of a lion or tiger standing over his prize.
His ribs are so clean cut from the marble they feel as if they are geometrically aligned with precision and skill. His large wings wrap around his skeletal body and a cape is draped over his torso very dramatically. While his face is an empty skull, the darkness within it creates a feeling of both tranquility and acceptance, as if it’s the way it must be. That or – don’t interfere as your time will surely come.
There is also a debate about whether Death’s prize is a man or a woman, as from certain angles it has features of both genders. It is possible that the artist created a statue that could be perceived as either gender in order to make the power of death’s embrace stand out even further since it get us all in the end.
Shooting the Kiss of Death
Shooting the statue was a challenge, as the sun came out as I finally found it, and this creates hard shadows that make processing the images very hard. Your worst day is usually my best day when shooting art. However I could not lose the chance so I gave it my best shot. I had just received a new Sony A7 60 megapixel camera, along with a super cool Sony G 12 mm wide angle lens and a 75 mm Leica telephoto and this was one of my first shoots with my new kit.
The statue was located on an elevated island, between a walkway and walls of cremation boxes so this gave me good angles where I could shoot both up and down. I was also able to climb up on the tombstone to get close enough to capture the detail in the faces and eyes of both Death and the unwilling participant he was spiriting away. The wide angle lens allowed me to capture great quality up close, and the telephoto let me get some great angles for processing from far away.
I also used my Mavic Mini baby drone which is able to get great aerial photographs around the top and sides of the statue, in this case I got amazing shots looking down on death’s ribs. By this time it started to get super windy, since the cemetery is close to the sea, and the mavic is a tiny drone and was being blown around furiously so I was not able to get that close up. Maybe the spirits were starting to get upset, however one would think they would appreciate the marketing and promotion they would be getting.
All in all I was able to capture over 400 photos, 200 using the Sony A7 and 200 using the Mavic mini. After cleaning them up in Lightroom I was able to get rid of most of the hard shadows and the final piece came out very stunning and true to the original and is now up on exhibit in the Soulbank virtual museum.