Well, ladies and gents!

Ever since the appearance of man on earth, his desire to immortalize himself and his loved ones, through images, have been born. Take for example the prehistoric rock recordings. Over the centuries, only noble and affluent families could afford this, as only they were able to pay for the portraits made by the painters!

The unbearable cost of posing for a painter was replaced by the easily accessible posing on the early camera. The middle class now had the opportunity to immortalize not only its living members but also the dead ones. 

Weird, uh?

Post-mortem photographs, especially of infants and young children, appear at this time, not so much as to remind people of mortality but—most importantly—to keep the picture of their beloved dead forever.

Well keep reading, hun, it is becoming weirder! 🙂

Post-mortem Photography

Victorian life was suffused with epidemics such as diphtheria, typhus, and cholera. In Victorian times, child mortality rates were extremely high. Infants died days or even hours after birth and post-mortem photography was the only way for parents to have their child’s picture. In fact, it was the only picture. Creepy, if you ask me!

Post-mortem photography flourished in the 19th century to “die” with the widespread use of cameras.

The first post-mortem photographs usually depict the face or entire body of the dead, but rarely the coffin. The subject was set up in such a way that it looked like they were immersed in sleep, in bed or even in an armchair.

Children were usually photographed lying on a couch or on their swing, often with their favorite toy next to, or even hugging their parents. Adults were mainly placed in chairs or in specially designed frames.

Flower arrangements were a very common decoration of post-mortem photographs.

Creepy Tradition Today

Post-mortem photography survives nowadays, but in another form and for other reasons. 

We have photographs taken at cemeteries and at a scene of an accident or crime, shootings at execution sites in countries that still apply the death penalty, etc.

But these are for police, medical and legal reasons and have nothing to do with the causes of early post-mortem photography!

Immortalized Art

Post-mortem photography has been an inspiration for many contemporary artists.

Known for his posthumous photos is Enrique Metinides, a newspaper photographer. Although he is photographing victims of a police report in Mexico City, he does it in such a way that, despite the disgust of the show, it manages to have an aesthetic effect. Thus, many galleries have occasionally hosted his work.

Joel-Peter Witkin uses corpses, or dismembered portions thereof, as carriers in his macabre photographic compositions.

Irish photographer Maeve Berry has consolidated her reputation with photos of bodies cremated in the crematorium during the cremation ceremony, thus literally creating the “final” image.

Well, that’s it, sweetie!

Thank you for reading this article of mine and write below your replies so that I can see them! 

And please let me know your thoughts—did you enjoy the topic? 

If there is anything else you’d be interested in reading about the Regency Era, feel free to let me know…

…and who knows? Maybe you will read about it soon!

Written by Olivia Bennet

68 COMMENTS

  1. That was interesting however I do know that my ex-in-laws took photos of there deceased live one and lots of the burial plot. I found it to be really creepy.

    I’m enjoying these articles and find them fascinating. Please keep writing.

  2. This is a very weird tradition but I remember seeing a picture of my grandmother.This was taken when the dead were placed in casket in the living room

  3. Ms.Bennet , The first photo with the child’s head resting on her mother’s knee was disconcerting , to say the least . But the seventh picture had me shuddering !

  4. Not too long ago, a friend received an article from another friend who found it by accident while researching a topic. It had quite a few photos of deceased people of all ages, and often you could not tell which were dead! I guessed incorrectly twice. It gave the answers at the end along with some clues which included a metal stand behind the deceased with a support to hold them up. I believe the hands were a giveaway, but not the clothes as they were dressed in the same type of clothing as the others in the photo. They often had hairdos, even the men, which were very life-like. One of my aunts by marriage took pictures of deceased family members at visitations. It seemed macabre, but she was doing research on the family from the time they came to America in the early 1600’s. She was looking at similarities in appearance from some pictures she had of earlier family members. And the gene goes on! She had much material but had not finished when she died. I would love to look at some of the information she had gathered. Her husband, my uncle, died a few years ago in his late 90″s. There were many in their family who lived to late 90’s and one aunt was 100! Thank you for this article. I know we all have a little bit of morbid curiosity. I admit it, and would love to see similar subjects, or more of the same.

  5. My family has this tradition on my Mama’s side of the family. Have pictures of my Grandma and my Mama. 1942 and 1993.
    They look amazingly alike. Not weird or macabre, just memories. Old Barlow custom from the old country.

  6. Could not want pictures of anyone post Morten! My husband passed away 5 years ago but I have photos of him at happy times but not at his death.

  7. When I first read about and saw post-Morten photos, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could do this. I could understand death masks, but actual photos are definitely weird. I guess if you want a very real keepsake of someone, this would truly do the trick!

  8. Considering the long exposure times necessary for early photographs, dead bodies were ideal subjects. They did not blink of shift possession, or develop an annoying itch which simply had to be scratched- common hazards of early sitters, particularly children! Early photography was a very complicated exercise, unlike modern film photographs and digital methods. Again, early cameras were large and cumbersome and lenses somewhat rudimentary. An interesting article nevertheless!
    The Regency era was quite a bit earlier than the Victorian era, and was considerably shorter in terms of years.The Victorians were very inventive and developed so many things we take for granted today, particularly electricity!

  9. That was interesting! I love reading about customs from the past. I’m in my late 70s now and I remember my aunt having a really big box of family photos stored in her attic. We barely had a chance to see any of them and were planning on making a day of it in the new future; we planned to catalog them and share copies with the rest of the family. Unfortunately, she was renting out the house, stored the box of photos and some antique furniture in the locked attic room and when the tenants refused to pay their rent, we had them evicted. Before the sheriff could remove them, they set fire to the garage and house. The fire department managed to save the house but the garage full of her belongings was a total loss. When we were able to get into the house, we discovered that the box of photos and the antiques had all been stolen, Sadly, nothing was ever recovered! Really wish we hadn’t stored anything in that house!

  10. Olivia,
    I had a Great-Uncle (my Grandmothers brother) who had a picture of his dead wife hung on the wall. She died before I was born and I am 77! As you can see, it was not only the Victorian era in which this occurred.
    Thank you for all your interesting articles. I really enjoy them.
    I hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
    R,
    Sandra

  11. Sounds creepy and weird, but maybe not so much. Come to think of it, I have taken such a picture as a remembrance-sort of last picture taken. What I would not do is take a family picture with the deceased in it. Now, that is creepy.

  12. Creepy and weird but interesting. Thank you.
    Can you write about the dresses the women wore. How did they get ready for the “season”? How long did it take to make a dress and/or did they wear it more than once?

  13. That is very strange photography but was also done in the 70’s as Elvis Presley was also photographed in his coffin which was awful. I can see from your article that it all started in the 1800’s. Wow.

  14. Bizarre, yet fascinating. I don’t think it’s creepy. Most parents wouldn’t think their child would or should pass before them. Memories can fade over time. An image of them can ease their pain a little bit at a time.

  15. Momento mori may seem creepy to us today but back in victorian times death was a common occurrence especially infant and child death so it makes sense that parents would want a part of their child to cherish.

  16. Hello Miss Bennet,

    I do agree with you that this is very strange but now days the way people immortalize their pets are creepy also.
    So, I am not sure people have changed that much, lol.
    I am sort of curious about a couple of things: I don’t ever recall when they are undressing if they use items such as underwear? Also when did toilets come into play?

    Even though it seems like a very romantic era I am very OCD so I don’t think I could have ever survived living during that time.

    Thanks for all your books and information into this romantic era.

    BTW what is Cobalt Fairy?
    Regards,
    Veronica

  17. I have seen post mortem photos before, they are creepy but I find death masks worse. I know a few people who still practice this. Personally I would rather have a photo of someone smiling and happy, a nicer memory. Thank you for writing the article it was extremely interesting.

  18. Going to a more cheerful subject, I read that a bride received a ‘copy of the lines’ as proof of marriage. Were there any wedding photos? Did fathers give out cigars to celebrate a birth, or is that a custom from somewhere else? Did the bride ‘throw a bouquet?’ What other interesting customs were there?

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