Vintage post-mortem photography

If you’re lucky enough to have a few enthusiastic Facebook friends you’ve probably seen it all: breakfast photos, lunch photos, dinner photos, everything-you-eat-in-between-photos, pictures of cars, pets, and – let’s not forget – babies. Tons of babies. Because of smart phones and social media we share everything. Well, almost everything. One thing that was very common to share decades ago is now a bit of a taboo: post-mortem photo’s.

When photography became affordable for the masses in the nineteenth century it became a way of remembering the dead. The mortality rates where high and parents used photography as a way to remember their dead children. The poses on the photos vary: sometimes it’s just the deceased in a coffin or on a bed, sometimes there are flowers and often there are mourning loved ones around the deceased. Due to long exposure time family members had to sit still for minuted next to their deceased family member. Kids can be seen posing with a dead brother or sister, sometimes even a pet.

Nowadays post-mortem photography is still around, but not as much as a century ago. Post-mortem photography moved from a public area into a more private one, something personal to remember a dead loved one by. What’s left of a century ago are thousands of post-mortem photos from which you’ll be able to see a few in this post.

Photo Source: Paul Frecker – Nineteenth Century Photography

More on post-mortem photography: Post-mortem photography @ Wikipedia

More vintage post-mortem photos: The Thanatos Archive, Gregory Sullivan Gallery, Antique Photo album.

















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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • It has become taboo indeed! any thing suggesting death is forbidden in our current society. Everything must look cool, neat, happy and clean. Advertising everywhere, fake smiles and fake happiness, mass media that are meant to make us forget we’ll die one day…our soul is being killed that way!
    These photos are amazingly beautiful. In some of them, due to the long exposure time you talk about, the living are blurred, seem to be on the way to vanishing soon – more ephemeral than the dead ones…

    • Thanks for your reply Annamaria! You’re right, this is completely different from the images we see in our current society. Just imagine how different Facebook would be if these would be shared daily instead of all the breakfasts, parties, cats and babies ;)

      I have to agree with you on your observation on the contrast between the living and dead too, I also love how ghostlike the living people look in these images.

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