Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rockabilly, Tattoos, People Watching and Beer

Every year the tattoo community puts together a tattoo convention to advertise services, make connects, and bring the tattoo community together.  They hold it at the Holiday Inn in Allentown.  I can only imagine the regular guests showing up to check in and seeing hundreds of people with tattoos, piercings, body mod, etc...Must be a hoot.  Over the years tattooing has become well establish in our culture.  It is almost accepted now in all aspects of society.  As long as you don't have "IDIOT" tattooed across your face you're pretty safe.  Some jobs make you cover them but it's not much of a hassle for most.  If you believe strongly enough in tattooing yourself then covering them up to work shouldn't be a hassle.  It was your choice, of course, and you knew that while most of society accepts them there are still a few old fashioned hold outs.  Ce la vie.

It was nice that Skindustry put a note of memoriam in the brochure to Joel:
"This year the Lehigh Valley lost a very active member of the local art scene.  Joey "Seyone" Santa, tattooer, graffiti artist, father and husband.  All of us would like you to remember him and his family. Rest in Peace Joel."

So Justin and I found ourselves sitting in the hotel bar that evening.  We had a nice little people watching session.  I was surprised just how good Justin is at picking out people and knowing their story.  One gentleman walked by us.  He had tattoos to his wrist and very, very shiny boots.  "He's military," Justin remarked.  Lo and behold, not moments later he walks up to his buddy wearing a U.S. Navy baseball cap. It was nice to exercise my brain a bit working out stories about the patrons.  "Look at those shoes she's wearing.  She's a business woman.  No one wears shoes like that with jeans."  I asked Justin to come up with my story.  I was wearing a polka dot skirt, black spaghetti string top, black platform heels and a black sweater (it was really rainy and cold).

"You look like a teacher who's at a tattoo convention."

A teacher.

Yay.  I think I might have lost my edge.

It was nice, though.  Later that evening we stopped at the Ham Fam diner.  It was utterly devoid of teenagers.  We asked the waitress where they were.  For a Saturday night it was dead. She said the whole weekend was dead.  It was probably the rain.  Then she asked if I was one of the "girls" that used to hang out at The West End Diner about 15+ years ago with Mike Hill, Matt Vassallo and the gang.  Later I remembered her name was Cheryl and was our nightly waitress.  We reminisced a little.  "Look at me," I said, "All grow'd up."  I might have lost my edge but we were the innovators and it's nice to remember that.  All these little punk kids at Hot Topic?  We paved the way for them.  We used home made tattoo guns and pierced our noses with needles and potatoes.  We saved our money and bought our Doc Martens on South Street in Philly.  We couldn't order them online and they weren't made in Singapore.  We were part of the early Goth movement which has now, sigh, become trendy.  All you little ones out there who think retro bands like the Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Clash, The Ramones, The Cure, The Smiths, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, Circle Jerks, SOD, MOD, Social Distortion etc...are way cool should remember that we were the ones out there pan handling outside the clubs for money to get in and see them live. (Well, the Sex Pistols were before my time...)

A lot of the people there were dressed in rockabilly style with a bit of punk flair.  It's all the rage.  There was a gorgeous Betty Page look alike, Betty Crocker dresses with platform heels.  Justin looked fabulous.  I looked like, well, a teacher.  ;)  The band was called the Ultra Kings and we're going to find out if they have other performances in the area.  I think we need to see them again.  I wish I could dance to that kind of music.  Maybe I'll take some lessons.  You feet just start to move and you just want to jump on the dance floor. There is nothing better than hearing the bass thumping in your ear and moving the beer glass on the bar.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't let them disappear...Post mortem photography

It's taken a long time to have the conviction to sit down and write about this subject.  It's not for everyone.  In fact most people would find the whole idea of post mortem photography (especially that of children) taboo.  Most people don't understand why it would be done at all.  It's morbid.  As I've written about previously, as a society, we like to steer clear of uncomfortable subjects such as death.  And as I've written about previously, the death of children is more than simply uncomfortable.

In the 19th century the human mortality rate was very high; the children being the largest group of victims.  A good deal of children didn't make it out of infancy and if they were lucky enough to live, were sure to die of a variety of diseases preventable today (such as measles, mumps, whooping cough).  Others were killed by their professions.  Yes, five year olds with professions.  The smallest humans became coal miners, chimney sweeps, and prostitutes among other horrific undertakings (pun intended).  William Blake wrote two poems about child chimney sweeps.  Told in different voices, they still summarized the awful life many poor children were subjected to.

 The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,

That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet; and that very night,

As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, -
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.

And by came an angel who had a bright key,

And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,

They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,

And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.

The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Experience

A little black thing in the snow,
Crying "'weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
"Where are thy father and mother? Say!"--
"They are both gone up to the church to pray.

"Because I was happy upon the heath,

And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

"And because I am happy and dance and sing,

They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his priest and king,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."

There were no consistent birth certificates to prove existence.  My second daughter died after she was born and I am fortunate to have a birth certificate.  It is PROOF she existed.  Not just for me but for history.  Every human being born into this world has the right to be remembered.  If conception, pregnancy, and birth are as magical, mystical and miraculous as believed, then life should be remembered.  We come now to the post mortem photograph.  The only proof that someone was a living soul upon this planet; for however short a period it might have been.

If you look at these photos (both those of the children and adults) you will see that they are done with care. Of course, postmortem photos of criminals after execution are notwithstanding.  The children are dressed in their finest with all respect paid to their innocence and beauty.  Adults are posed respectfully also dressed in their best clothing with lovely props and adornments.  Many are posed with their families with them. Sometimes there was not enough time between a birth and a death of a child to get a living family portrait.   One of the oddest things I've come across are the photos of adults that are propped up as if alive with their eyes painted on (one of the features that helps photo experts decide if they have a postmortem or not).

These images are not meant to hurt of disgust.  They are meant to memorialize and prove.  The child in the above photograph lived in this world.  Not for any time or great purpose, perhaps to anyone other than her family, but SHE. WAS. HERE.  And that is what these pictures say.  Death was so common an occurrence that this was  not looked on with shock and horror.  This was looked on with love and sadness.  It is unfortunate that so many people in the modern and post modern world viewed these photographs so terribly.  In the film A Haunting in Connecticut, the main character played by Virginia Madsen comes across a pile of post mortem photographs.  With disgust she throws them into the outside garbage can instead of giving them to a local funeral home or town hall.  The dead and the past thrown in the garbage.  Precisely what these people were desperate to avoid.  You can find postmortem photographs on the internet.  They are few and expensive.  Book compilations are a pretty penny.  Online archives are available as well.  Here are a few to start with if interested.
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Don't think that postmortem memorial photography is no longer used.  It is. It's just made to be dirty and put in a back room where it's never spoken about. Hospitals offer a wide variety of postmortem photographic services; most often for the death of children. It is a way to help people process loss and deal with mourning. It is offered privately (you'll find no advertisement for it on the hospital website as a "service") and with respect.  Some don't want the photos done.  Some do.  They never push.  I have one of my own and cherish it.  It's obviously not a photo to place in a frame and put on the piano.  It is a reminder to me that SHE. WAS. HERE. 

If there are no reminders  that a person lived on this earth you can simply watch them disappear from history and memory.  That is true death.