The Story of Mrs. F.A. Tasse's Parlour, Part Eight
THE ARTIST, PHOTOGRAPHER AND VOYEUR
The artist, businessman and voyeur used lens and viewing camera to photograph his business interests in public, and his private interests in secret. Having been born in Louisiana to a prominent white Creole family he had a rather decent education. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy merchant who originated from France. His father supported the family there in the French Quarter in fine style. He was a bookkeeper and in his later years, became a treasurer and secretary for a well known business. The family was wealthy enough to be able to have a nurse for the children in their employ.
The young photographer faired well in school, above average and thus was able to secure a job with his father’s firm as a young man. At the onset, he was interested and active in the business, but his restless and creative nature would not let him stay attentive and his mind wandered towards other goals, dreams and desires.
He became obsessed with photography, and by 1898 he was recognized for his talent and knowledge of the camera and lens.
He stood only five feet, five inches tall however, he was very handsome and had a dapper appearance and hauntingly beautiful eyes. His facial features were soft, yet remained manly. His eyebrows were full and thick and accentuated the color and depth of his most beautiful eyes. He had a refined nose, and a charismatic and well-trimmed mustache that was perched just above the lip. His hair was properly groomed and he dressed well in suit and tie of the day and generally wore a distinguished hat upon his head.
He was known to be seen wearing diamond stick pins in his lapel, or gold cufflinks and tie clasp. He sometimes wore flashy scarves and monograms that were flamboyant and ostentatious.
He was very polite and because of his social standing, he was invited to many refined and exclusive parties.
Around this time, his mother died. His father was engaged in work and his brother was away at school. He was left alone and began to pursue his interests in photography more deeply and intently. The district was within very close proximity to his home and he often ventured there as a young man, looking for sex and inexpensive thrills. Word got out within the district of his photographic talents and he was hired to photograph some of the ladies in order to promote certain brothels and portray with stilled image, what lay waiting inside. Not only did he photograph the ladies, he also photographed the grand rooms.
There were white marbled fireplaces and highly polished black- walnut and mahogany carved pieces of furniture, some were covered in lovely damask.
There were grand etageres and velvet carpets. There were statues and other works of art by renowned artists. There were marbled tables and armoires with glass doors. There were fine sideboards and lovely silver pieces within. The walls boasted expensive and tasteful paintings. There were French mirrors in guilt frames that caught and reflected the loveliness and the light.
The photographer viewed the rooms and pieces therein as works of art, and since he had an eye for beauty, he felt comfortable there. He was enamored with the bay windows and the tulip-domed cupolas over some of the fireplaces. The houses that he frequented and photographed were modest to elegant. There, you could expect to find between eight to twenty ladies living within and the rooms contained just about anything from eccentricities to kink.
Social etiquette and cocktails were served in the parlors. Once the attitude was relaxed, there were engagements of fetish, bondage and discipline. The parlors were gentlemanly, the displays reflected gaudy opulence and expensive chandeliers and glass globed sconces. Palm trees were planted in pottery and cast frond shadows across the walls.
The ladies displayed qualities that ungentlemanly men preferred. There in the late afternoon and early evening, those with the most charm could win favors and create swoon, adoration and infatuation for lustful hearts.
Music was played, literature was read and songs were sung. Social conversation was lively and robust.
If you looked carefully, just there on the chair, the sofa or a portion of the rug or wood floor, you might see faded blood stains that had tried to be cleaned from events and situations of which entailed jealousy and drunken stupor.
Because of his family’s success he was given visibility within the community and therefore, he was certain to receive any job which required the use of a photographer, and at the time he was considered a very good photographer. Prices were reasonable, and he most often got the job. As a photographer, people showed interest in his creativity, if not for him, and in many instances they created work for him to benefit their businesses, their buildings, investments and advertising.
He enjoyed beautiful women and admired their form. Most of the women available in his small world and social circles would never engage in his desire for fetish sex, and so he found comfort in the brothels and rooms of those who would afford him a deviant and provocative amount of time away from reality.
He had an affection for kinky twisted and warped sex. He loved to be urinated on, and didn’t mind a little scat here and there. He loved foot sucking and fruit fucking. He had deviant and unconventional sexual tastes that in upper crust circles would be seen as weird, bizarre, eccentric, peculiar or mentally deranged.
He liked sexual concepts that were expressive and played out in form.
He enjoyed sexual fantasies which involved suffering and humiliation of himself or his partner. If struggle was involved he enjoyed the power. He had a love for sodomy and perversion, kink and bondage. He enjoyed exhibitionism and voyeurism and could be highly aroused by lesbian play, where he was made to suffer, tied naked to a chair in the corner, bound and gagged and made to watch.
His passion for interracial sex lured him into the negroe area of town and the fifty cent cribs where he was free to enjoy his passion for what he believed was exotic and ethnic. It was a dangerous part of town and that danger added to his excitement. However as he grew into young manhood, and created a professional world around him, he was becoming increasingly fearful of disclosure and had interests of self preservation. He had stumbled into a few tricky situations and once, his life was threatened by a group of male negroes at knife point. He was courting a few prostitutes in the ghetto area and while engaged in leaving the crib of one particular young black woman, was accosted by her brothers. He was able to lie and came up with an excuse that was debatable, narrowly escaping the blade. As he grew more prominent in the community, he knew he had to live up to higher social standards. Anyway, racial tensions were high, riots had ensued. More and more people were becoming armed and dangerous.
While working in the upper crust areas of the district, he had become intrigued by Albertine and rarely had the need to visit the black part of town for fear of being recognized.
In any event, he fell in love with Albertine and was happy with her, and felt safe in her arms. When she was not at Mrs. Tasse’s, he was free to frequent other women and girls, and he did so with intense enthusiasm and obsession.
He was commissioned to photograph the ladies of the brothels and often he gave of his services in exchange for the companionship and generosity of the Madams and their sporting houses.
He also had a passion for photographing the women for his own pleasure and voyeuristic passion. They were photographed in various forms of dress and undress. He used props and tried to create fantasy and beauty in his work, scattering rose petals on the floor around one of his subjects. Perhaps he pulled a palm tree into the image, creating a living and exotic feel. The girls loved to pose for him and they yearned for any attention from this handsome and well liked man of prominent social standing. Some girls posed laying across the back of a chaise lounge, completely exposed save for a bit of cloth pulled into the lap.
Some would stand with only a light piece of gauze wrapped gently around their waist, perhaps a long string of beads or chain would hang unencumbered from the neck, caressing the breast and emphasize the form.
When he photographed a woman named Bleu, he was aware of her social shyness, he was compassionate and keenly aware of the sadness and sorrow she wore inside as well as her outward manner, and so he photographed her in this way. She appeared sad and while gently looking downward she held a bouquet of peonies and a single rose. He allowed her to remain clothed and told her she resonated pure innocence and had a true depth of beauty in her soul. Being that he was practical in the form of professionalism and business, he offered to photograph the Madams of the brothels free of charge. He used his charm and wistful tongue to engage them with his bullshittery, flattering them to the point where they found him utterly irresistible. This is how he won favor.
Having been allowed to take such intimate photographs, he felt it necessary to protect them somewhat from their families, prying eyes and social standing, so that many of his images were never revealed to the general public or anyone. They were creatures to be cherished and never to be shamed.
Some of the images he took were rather vulgar and reflected torture and suffering. He would tie their legs in the air, tethered to chairs or bed frames, their legs spread apart, their mouths bound or eyes blindfolded.
The images showed that he had pushed furniture in front of locked doors or used electrical cord tied to ensure privacy and security. Perhaps things would get out of hand.
Many of these images, later defaced and destroyed.
He would also photograph them wearing black masks, a black veil of kink and secrecy.
He enjoyed the shame provoked in some of the images. Perhaps he would see the face of his very own mother in some of these girls and women. Their form or skin or fleeting thought reminded him of her. And so, he would often scratch away many of the women's faces from the fragile emulsion, and blacken out their faces. In
doing so he sometimes felt an anger inside or had the need to visit a confessional. These particular images were the ones he was eventually most fond of and they stimulated his sexual desire.
One of his favorite images was one he took of a woman named Sateen. She was laying across a chaise lounge, completely nude except for a pair of black stockings pulled up to her thighs. Her pubic bush was full and bared freely for the camera. Her right arm was resting gently behind her back as if it was tied there, the left just slightly forward and free from her body. She wore a black carnival mask that hid her face and was incongruous with her eyes. She appeared inappropriate, absurd and bizarre. These actions elicited strong sexual feelings and urges within the photographer so that when he finished the process, he tied her up with both of her arms behind her back and ravished her for hours, tying her and untying her, poked at, prodded and pleaded for pleasure.
Eventually the district was closed and prostitution became illegal.
The ladies reverted back to hidden dens and private rooms, removed from society and forever shamed, although not forgotten.
The photographer continued on with his professional photography outside of the district. His life was lonely and sad. Albertine had contracted venereal disease long ago when she was 21 years old. She lived with sores, burning pain and agony. A decade and a half, later, she developed an upper respiratory tract illness which brought sore throat and fever, an infection of the tonsils, pharynx and nasal cavity. Her neck became swollen and her breathing slowed. She suffered from muscle weakness and swallowing became difficult. She was not able to eat much food. She developed a barking cough and became hoarse and her speech was indistinguishable. She developed lesions on her skin. The scaling and rash became sores and blisters. Within a week, perhaps two, she suffered paralysis which was followed by heart failure and death.
The photographer stayed by her side as much as he could. There was no complacence or self importance left within him when she died. He was nearly broken, anguish filled his mind and her memory lingered in the depth of his being, he lived out his years with torment in his soul. He destroyed all but one photograph of her, which he framed and hung over his small desk in his apartment.
His secrets from the district lay within, he eventually closed his studio and destroyed nearly all of the glass plates that held imagery from the period of his life in which he had found so much pleasure. Now life left him with memories and nothing else but pain.
He had shared the images one time with a colleague and dear friend of his. His friend had no idea of his perversions and sexual conquests. He tried to see the rationale stilled there, if only for business and promotional sake, but he was too offended and urged the photographer to destroy them all. Pained by his friends commentary and disgust, he went on quietly with the professional aspect of his business but after living years in turmoil, he nearly went insane and became recluse. As his body aged, it shriveled somewhat, making him appear dwarfish and grotesque. By 1949 he is old and fat, nobody remembers him for his dapper youth and prosperous upbringing. He lives so alone and has no friends. His only love now lost to the few images on glass plates which still remain. His brother lives far away from him and they rarely even write to each other. They have no connection other than birth and the secrecy of one, shuns the other. Late in life he could be seen wandering around the downtown area. Occasionally he spoke to pretty women or stumbled into camera shops where he tried to share his love and recount stories of his youth, but nobody really listened and nobody really cared. They acknowledged him and then ignored him, pushing him out of their way so that they could continue on with their lives, and not become engaged in the past life of one senile old man.
Alone and forlorn, one day he goes to leave his apartment, he is a bit shaky and unsure of himself. He arrives at the vestibule of his apartment building and slowly creeps out onto the front porch. His mind and face goes blank and he stumbles and falls down the stairs, and lands on the sidewalk bleeding in a pool of his own blood.
The people gasp and pay attention to him then. He is attended to briefly, but it is too late for he has died there upon the concrete walk. His body is removed and he is gone without concern or care. His brother is notified and he goes to the photographers bank and then to his apartment with two friends, to go through his things and clean up what remains of his life.
They find no will in his safety deposit box. There is a tiny gold locket with a very small and obscure photo inside which looks to be a black woman’s head and face, adorned with ostrich feathers. They find a small ring that appears to be an engagement ring with a small and insignificant diamond. There is a rosary, a broken watch, and a few other pieces of Tiffany jewelry.
Inside the photographer’s apartment and find furniture that is broken. Many of the lamps are in pieces and there is photographic equipment that is dilapidated and in disrepair. It is there that they find a collection of eight by ten images stilled upon glass. The images are pornographic, lewd and considered shameful and disgusting. One of the men is an antique dealer and he begs to have a few of the items found there, including the box and the collection of small glass plates. There in his shop, they deteriorate. They are stored in the back of the junk shop and relegated to a corner in the bathroom. The room is flooded following a fierce and blustery storm, the images suffer water damage and later begin to show signs of corrosion and calcification. They are discovered many decades later and prints are made from them once again revealing a legacy and living legend of a life and time far away and long past. The prints go on tour in New York City where they become at once, famous and reflect the talent of the voyeur and artist.
They appear inappropriately beautiful, hauntingly strange with bits and pieces of fetish and hidden clues therein.
Eventually they return to New Orleans and now hang in a lovely museum across the bayou where the photographer’s body is lying there, in a little tomb inside of the family’s plot.