Beginning in the mid-1800s, post-mortem photography (or memento mori) was a popular way to honor and remember the dead. Most photographs were taken shortly after death, and could look incredibly life-like, especially if the deceased was propped up into a standing position.
Post-mortem photos of children were particularly common, perhaps because their mortality rate was high during the Victorian era. Parents may not have had their child photographed while they were alive. In the event of a sudden death, the family would have rushed the body along to photographers to have a photograph taken as a reminder of their child. Some of these photographs were tastefully done showing the obviously deceased child lying on a bed surrounded by flowers and apparently asleep.
Some of them might really shock you…can you imagine holding up your deceased child in your arms for the last time? Even as a memory would haunt your life forever not to mention that having this unique photo in your house would never leave you heal your open wound…
However there is a reason for it. As ascribed above, this was a new technology used for mementos. Us moderns have tons of physical pictures, movies, films, vcr tape, cell phone, cd, dvd, text messages, email messages, public records that evidence our existence and we don’t ever think about that. For these people, this was the first time that they would have something more than memory, word of mouth, and maybe a birth certificate that show proof that they had lived. When these people died, it was a last chance to get a picture of someone they loved. But new in the sense that this was a new technology and these were the first people who could take advantage of it.
1.) Contrary to being creepy, these death photographs were meant to serve as mementos of the deceased loved one.
2.) Because of that, many photographers tried to make their subjects look alive.
3.) Photographers employed a variety of tricks to make their subjects look more life-like.
4.) One of the most common ways they did this was posing people with their favorite things (like this man in a chair with his dogs).
5.) Or this girl here with her toys.
6.) Sometimes, photographers would try to make it appear like the dead person was sleeping.
7.) Here, the dead girl on the end is being propped up with a special device.
8.) Notice the way the photographer has positioned the man’s arm in order to support the head?
9.) Notice the odd position of the curtain behind the boy? It’s likely there was someone behind it holding the boy’s head up.
10.) Here this little girl is sitting sideways on the chair so that the device propping her up is hidden.
11.) She almost looks alive in this picture.
12.) See anything strange about the background? This girl is sitting on someone’s lap. The person held her in place while the photo was taken.
13.) In this photograph, the girl standing in the middle is the deceased. The photographer attempted to make her look more alive by drawing on her pupils.
14.) Other times it wasn’t possible to make their subjects look alive.
15.) It was common for family members pose with their dead loved ones for these photographs.
16.) You can tell it must have been difficult for the living families members. The pain in these parents’ faces as they hold their dead child is obvious.
17.) I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to pose with a dead loved one. At the time, the photography process was slow and you could not move while the photo was being taken.
18.) In this photo you can see the dead girl is more in focus than her parents, as they moved while the photograph was being taken.