After much dilly-dallying, here’s my second set of reviews of zines I bought at the SappyFest zine fair.
by Kent Ross
Issues #2, June 2012, and #5, August 2013
18 and 22 pages respectively, at 1/2 letter size
$1 each from the author
These zines belong to a category of writing I really enjoy: someone passionately describing an arcane pursuit they spend a lot of time at, dispelling misconceptions, talking about what it’s really like, day to day, and how they got interested in it. However, in this case, the arcane pursuit is human dissection: Ross writes about her experiences as a student and a TA in anatomy and anatomical drawing courses.
Obviously, this is material that could be very upsetting for any number of reasons. The descriptions of dissections can be very graphic and shocking, though they never come across as having been written with an eye to shock value. Ross’s writing is funny without being crass, and respectful without being sanctimonious. Still, Ross advises, and I wholeheartedly second, that you should think hard before you read these zines about whether it’d be okay for you to read about this stuff.
"There’s something about holding a real human brain that makes everyone serious and thoughtful."
I once read an incredibly upsetting history book compiling photographs of human dissections from the 1880s to the 1930s. It was full of stories that are really importand to know but tremendously sad and horrifying: how many dissected bodies came from grave robberies, and how the cemetaries robbed were disproportionately those of Black communities. The ‘wacky’ photos that students would pose for with the corpses. The thousands of human bones disinterred from the basement of the basement of the Medical College of Georgia in 1989. The history of medicine and science, like everything else, are inextricably bound up with institutional racism and judgments about what kinds of bodies deserve respect.
Ross addresses the anatomy lecturers’ tendencies to do things like posthumously fat-shame people who donated their bodies by mocking their organs and disparagingly comparing them to “normal” ones. I really appreciate this willingness to acknowledge and engage with the fucked-uppedness around human dissection, while respecting and honouring the donors’ lives and their gift of themselves.
I found myself pretty shaken up after reading these two issues of Photomill, but I admire Kent Ross for shedding light, in a thoughtful, respectful way, on a strange and morally complex area of human endeavour.
- Lily Pepper