Friday, October 31, 2008

Memento Mori: A Halloween Related Post

Post-mortem photography (also known as memorial portraiture or memento mori) is the practice of photographing the recently deceased.

From the above link:
The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made portraiture much more commonplace, as many of those who were unable to afford the commission of a painted portrait could afford to sit for a photography session. This cheaper and quicker method also provided the middle class with a means for memorializing dead loved ones.

These photographs served less as a reminder of mortality than as a keepsake to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might be the only image of the child the family ever had. The later invention of the carte de visite, which allowed multiple prints to be made from a single negative, meant that copies of the image could be mailed to relatives.

The practice eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and died out as "snapshot" photography became more commonplace, although a few examples of formal memorial portraits were still being produced well into the 20th century.


Syrian bishop seated in state at his funeral (ca. 1945).

---see: Victorian post-mortem photography.

---Guess who is dead in this photo?

See more examples: Here. While post-mortem photography seems morbid and spooky to us, at the turn of the century, it was one of the only affordable methods of photography for poor families at the time. Post-mortem photography seemed to have waned around World War 2, but has been revitalized by The Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation to provide comfort, hope and closure for parents who lose their babies in child birth or through other birth defects.

See also:

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