Michelle Campbell: 5 Lively Years on a Dead Beat

by Lisa Nesselson

Eight years ago, teacher and photographer Michelle Campbell came to Paris on what she thought would be a one-year leave of absence from the "small university in Texas" where she was teaching.

There may be a Paris in Texas but, without intending to, Michelle ended up trading the longhorn state for Gaul.

"I've been here seven and a half years, which somehow works out to my 8th July 3rd," Michelle explains, after pointing out the 'bas relief' on the imposing monument to Etienne Gaspard Robertson, the French showman whose eerie magic lantern shows had more than a few Lizard King overtones over two hundred years ago, during the French Revolution.

Michelle, who has done several photo essays about cemeteries, was irresistably drawn to the graphic possibilities of Pere Lachaise. How seriously did she take this calling? "Well, for a period of five years, I photographed here every single day," Michelle says, slightly amused at her own dedication.

Needless to say, Michelle was among the very few people at the grave just as soon as the gates opened on the 25th anniversary of Morrison's death. "There were people crying. Men, not women. You got a sense for how Jim Morrison affects people, how he inspires them."

The annual exodus to Jim's grave "is not a Woodstock thing, not a nostalgia trip," Campbell affirms. "This is very current. For me, the story is how he inspires people today -- young people."

Young -- and not so young -- people of many lands are in evidence today, but Michelle, who has the benefit of constant, consistent observation is willing to make a few tongue-in-cheek generalities: "Germans are always older and wearing leather pants. Italians are always 16 -- and wearing leather pants."

Campbell was on her beat when Jim's parents visited their son's grave in 1991. "I made a photo very sureptitiously," she says, adding that "people can't believe this" but she didn't speak to the Morrisons, choosing to "respect their grief. The mother was quite moved. I could feel her love for her son. That's how I know he's in there."

And where was Campbell when she first heard of Morrison's death? "I was on a bus, a university bus with a radio. I heard it announced that Jim Morrison had died in Paris. It was a stunning moment, sort of like when Kennedy died."

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