When I was attending UC Berkeley in the late 1980s, a friend introduced me to the splendors of Colma. She and I were both interested in photography, and as righteous members of the artistically-minded-Bauhaus-listening set, we fell prey to the lure of the iconography of the cemetery.
We took semi-regular trips across the bay, down the 280, and past the looming Toys R Us giraffe sign to wander around taking pictures of Colma’s elaborately sculpted crypts and memorial stones and imagining the lives of those there entombed.
But none of the photographs that I took during those trips to Colma are as evocative as this image of “Molloy’s Bar” from the SFPL’s San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection. Although the photograph is ostensibly an image of the wall in a bar, the mirror that centers the composition reveals the forlorn-looking backs of bar patrons hunched over their drinks. The back of the photo is marked, “For Wakes of the Irish” and one can only imagine these bleak backs are connected to hands holding glasses raised in the honor of the dead.
Especially significant is the fact that the image is caught in a mirror, something that shows us the world in reverse and that, for many, has a touch of the “other” world, whether the world of the future, the dead, or Alice’s upside-down through the looking glass world. This image, of backs and mirrors, certainly sums up at least part of the living’s experience of Colma.
-Elise Proulx, Litquake