Hugues Leblanc is a photographer in Montréal, Quebec. His haunting black-and-white images have been exhibited extensively in Montreal and around the United States, France, and England. Hugues has a penchant for cemeteries, ossuaries, mummies, and other assorted macabre subjects. Visit his website: http://www.angelfire.com/tx4/tapholov/
Hugues provided three covers for Morbid Curiosity: an Italian skeleton, Marie Laveau’s tomb in New Orleans, and the Canadian mummy below. His photographs usually accompanied his essays, whether about “Going Into Tombs” (Morbid Curiosity #4, reprinted in Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues), working with the dying as a hospice nurse (“Lingering Death,” issue #5), or visiting “Italy’s Undead” (issue #8).
Of all the artwork I published in the magazine, Hugues’s pushed my boundaries the farthest. As a cemetery fanatic, I faced ethical issues about his prying open unlocked mausoleum doors to photograph what was within. I was actually repulsed by Hugues’s luminous photographs of recently dead corpses he encountered at work. Because I felt such strong reactions, it seemed important for me to publish the photographs and start a dialog.
Q: What does morbid curiosity mean to you?
A: If we choose to, or if we have enough money, we can avoid all that is dirty, annoying, and gruesome in this world. But despite our best clothes, the nicest makeup, and walking the red carpet, reality brings us back to the fact that we vomit, we defecate on a regular basis, we get sick, and we’re afraid of dying every time our usual hold on life meets a foreseeable or an unforeseen obstacle. A lot of life’s disagreeable moments are dealt with by workers or professionals, whose main purpose seems to be making money out of our misery and helping us avoid what we fear to see for ourselves.
I think ‘morbid curiosity’ has a lot to do with the inquiring objectivity of the scientific mind. Science has risen as the greatest method of finding out the truth about all aspects of life. Curiosity is the main reason for most of us. Its fun to figure out how your iPod works, but I think it’s much more fun to figure out why mummies exist. Why do we set up these elaborate funeral rites to remember our relatives, but cannot come face-to-face with corpses unless they are in a museum? ‘Morbid curiosity’ isn’t morbid at all; older civilizations dealt with death in different ways but we, today, prefer to sugarcoat it.
Death is the ultimate weirdness about life. The pages of Morbid Curiosity magazine were filled with events that dealt with a special kind of ‘unknown.’ It was a great read because there isn’t a higher purpose in life than sharing our experiences.
Q: How did you discover Morbid Curiosity magazine?
A: My girlfriend was in San Francisco on a book tour (she’s a writer) and doing a signing at Borderlands. Morbid Curiosity #1 was on the counter and she brought it home. We both pored over that issue, delighted and amazed. We bought the next one from the website. Ultimately, I submitted articles.
I’ve always like unusual reads. For example, I liked RE/Search, especially the book that dealt with “modern primitives.” I was fascinated with what people did with their bodies in the name of freedom, but these people were also following a long cultural tradition of mortification and they claimed to achieve higher conscious awareness. Hey! There were still freaks around in this world that weren’t complaining about not being normal, i.e., who enjoyed their differences. We’re constantly told to act ‘normal,’ but we all know that there’s something wrong just waiting to happen, so it’s pretty hard being normal. Individuality is more than genetic. It’s in the way we interact with the world that we test our values and reach an understanding of others.
Q: Did you have more than one piece in the magazine? Which was your favorite?
A: I had three stories published. One was about exploring local cemeteries, going where no one dreams of going. One was about my work experience in a geriatric ward, sharing final moments with strangers. The last was about traveling to Europe to search for these rare places where beauty and death coexist.
The first two pieces were my favorites. “Going Into Tombs” was so out-of-this-world. We have great cemeteries here in Montreal. The essay was about visiting cemeteries in a way that verged on ‘sin.’ It was a rebellious, amoral, dangerous experience. I wanted to see everything, inside and out. “Lingering Death” was more about my work and what I see and experience daily. My work environment changes slightly from week to week, but I’m still dealing with ‘end-of-life’ situations. I don’t really enjoy accidents/crime scenes, nor people dying from illnesses at an early age. But I can empathize with old age, running out of steam, living your final moments. I’ve seen it over and over.
Q: Did you have a favorite story in the zine that wasn’t your own?
A: I can’t say. I loved going through the magazine over and over. Every story was unique and worthy. Morbid Curiosity was so refreshing and thought provoking. I loved it all.
Q: How did the piece you have in the book come to be written?
A: As I introduced myself to the Goth and S/M culture, I met my best friend Nancy, who was a writer, and she helped me a lot, not that I am particularly inclined to write, but it was something that I could do. Morbid Curiosity was a starter.
I’d tried writing fiction before, but had goals that were way too high. This time, I had something to tell that didn’t have to be sugarcoated. Well, I knew I was in the ballpark and that the piece would hit a home run, along with the pictures I had taken. It was an opportunity. Morbid Curiosity was the best venue.
Q: Anything you’d like to add to that story now?
A: As I pointed out at the end of my “Going into Tombs” piece in the book, I had a window of opportunity. Crypts were being renovated and it was a kind of morbid sport to locate them and indulge. Over the years, work on crypts has continued and now the doors have all been sealed. Whatever could be seen is no longer available for viewing. It’s such a shame, but I can understand why this was done. Some people are not respectful of the dead. I am. I still ride thought the cemetery on my way back from work every day.
My pictures and the story that came out of the experience are unique, one of a kind. I feel that I’ve made a bridge between what was and what is. Damn me for being curious. My quest now is outside my locale. I like to travel with a purpose, so that’s what I do.
Q: Do you have a tale to tell about your involvement with the magazine or the book?
A: Only that I was delighted to be part of it.
Q: Have you ever been involved in the live events?
A: Nancy and I were in San Francisco for the World Horror Convention 2006 and we met up with Loren. It was a little odd for me, because I’m not used to conventions and meeting people. I really liked Loren and we took a little trip to the Winchester House. I had a great time with Loren and her daughter. I don’t think I made a fool of myself.
Later on that weekend, Loren had me read from my first piece at a Morbid Curiosity reading at the convention. That was a new experience for me. I think I did all right. I felt I had an important contribution to make. Thanks, Loren.
Q: Have you had another morbid experience that would make a good story?
A: I can tell you about the time when Nancy and I were in Toronto, looking for our car, when a squirrel electrocuted itself above us and fell to its death at our feet. I can tell you about the joy of being in London recently and finding an open gate to the catacombs of Brompton Cemetery or figuring out where Richard Burton’s Arabic-looking tent tomb is. I can tell you a lot about beautiful cemeteries and strongholds of mummies in the Czech Republic. I can tell you about the centuries-old depictions of the Dance Macabre in Italy, Austria, and Germany. My quest for the “morbid” is fabulous. Coworkers wonder about my motivation (not that they know it all), but my best reply is that I have something to look for, a search that keeps revealing amazing finds.
Q: What are you up to these days?
A: I hate blogging, so I don’t do it. I used to have a website and there are still archives out there, if you search for “tapholov.” I got tired of much of the Goth scene. Although my travels with Nancy bring me to amazing cemeteries and mummies, I’ve gotten into windmills and electric bikes, which are now my passion when I’m at home between trips. My flat is still full of macabre items collected over the years and I have my Goth and fetish memorabilia, but everything now shares space with electric motors, chains, and motorized bikes. You can have a look on youtube.com by searching for “tapholov.”
After you search ‘tapholov’ on youtube, check out the video of the beautiful Bone House in Hallstatt, Austria. I also put up some cool footage of the Kutna Hora church in the Czech Republic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpuSWI23-uc).
Stay morbid, folks. It makes life’s problems easier to bear!
Causes Loren Rhoads Supports