Posing on tombstones: is it disrespectful, or is it a celebration of the cycles of life? Photo by Flickr user zharth.
Twice a year, goths from all over the world flock to Whitby, in northern England, for the mother of all gothic festivals: the Whitby Gothic Weekend. They dress up, listen to bands, and visit the St Mary’s Church grounds.
Goths and cemeteries go hand in hand. Why? According to Amy at Ultimate Goth Guide:
Graveyards are peaceful and serene; and by and large people tend to stay away from them. The subject of death, for the mainstream, is taboo, which makes the resting place of the dead somewhere to be feared. Whereas Goths, as I have previously mentioned, are more appreciative of the beauty that can be found in dark or even frightening things. Death is not something that is hoped for or courted, but it is a fact of life, and as such has a beauty of its own. Non-Goths may find it uncomfortable to appreciate the beauty of a cemetery, but the ornate statues and crumbling gravestones are beautiful nonetheless.
But chances are, a Goth in a graveyard probably isn’t thinking about death at all – they are likely to enjoy the sense of history, the tranquil atmosphere, the beautiful carvings.
The St Mary’s Church grounds are something special to goths — in fact, it has been called “a Stonehenge for goths”. That’s because Bram Stoker included the graveyard in his novel Dracula as the location where the vampire takes Lucy Westenra as his victim. The place oozes atmosphere, as you can see here. You can read the passage where Jonathan Harker finds Lucy in the cemetery here.
So, the churchyard has been part of goths’ Whitby pilgramage — until this fall, when the church rector banned all photography in the cemetery. Although many newspapers have claimed this ban only pertains to goths, in fact it includes anyone who might want to take photos on the grounds:
John Hemson, the church’s warden said: “The reason the rector did it was, it had become unbearable. I sat there one day and in half an hour nine photographers walked past me.
“The Goths stand, sit or even lie on the table graves. there are people in Whitby who had families there even though it closed in 1861 and they object to it very much.”
Fair enough. In general, cemeteries are private property — supported and paid for by the families of those buried there. This is especially true on church grounds. Many graveyards ban photography for just this reason. At the same time, graveyards are pieces of history that include beautiful statuary and grounds. People come from all over the world to visit Paris’ Père Lachaise or New Orleans’ St. Louis cemeteries — and to take pictures to document their discoveries.
For a response from the goth world, again here’s Amy from the Ultimate Goth Guide:
I’m sure that in our younger and dafter days many of us were photographed draped all over assorted stones in our local cemeteries, but I think that most of us always have and will continue to draw the line at placing our booted feet all over the resting places of the dead. Surely we can all agree that that is disrespectful. And frankly, we Goths are overall a pleasant and affable lot, and would, I’m sure, be alarmed and upset to learn that behaviour in the cemetery had offended others. A small minority aside (probably the same minority who trample all over table stones), I’m sure that the ban will be respected and upheld by the spooky community.
Should goths — or anyone — be prohibited from touching, sitting, or laying on gravestones for photographs? Is it disrespectful? Should photography in cemeteries be banned?