Skip to comments.The Art of the Postmortem Photo
Posted on 11/07/2005 12:48:23 PM PST by wallcrawlr
Photographs of dead people, even dead children? Too weird for your taste?
Hold on a minute.
Photos of the dead served a purpose in the 1800s, when most families didn't have snapshots and photo albums.
The photos "were life-affirming rather than creepy and macabre, as most people think of them today," said Jack Kabrud, director and curator of the Hennepin History Museum. Its exhibit on the topic is called "A Semblance of Life: The Art and Culture of the Post Mortem Photograph," with about 50 photos from the 1850s to as late as the 1940s.
"These photos were the final gift to the survivors," Kabrud said. "It was something they could hold."
For many, the picture of a body in a coffin or propped up in a lifelike pose was the only image a family had of a deceased loved one. In many cases, friends and relatives far away -- some in the "old country" overseas -- had no way to get to a dying person or a funeral in time, and they treasured a picture of the deceased.
Some photos tear your heart out. There's one from 1912 of a deceased mother "holding" her living infant. There's another of little John Alexander Haley, 6 months and 11 days old, taken after his death.
Few people could afford postmortem photos. They were a luxury, especially if the family hired a professional photographer to arrange the scene and lighting. But the tradition was followed in cultures worldwide.
Some photos are from the History Museum's collections, but most are owned by Caitlin Karolczak, 21, an artist who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota in studio art.
(Excerpt) Read more at startribune.com ...
Left, John Alexander Hanly, 6 months, 11 days old. 1895. Middle, Woman holding deceased baby in a tenement stairwell, with light coming from a skylight. About 1860. Right, Deceased mother, propped up to hold her living baby. Names appear to be Esther and Mamye Turley. 1912.
Creepy now...but part of our history.
We've always took pics of our loved ones at funerals. Never knew it was weird until we creeped some people out showing the pics.LOL
Yeah, I guess "creepy" is a relative term.
When my daughter died of SIDS at 3 months, 27 days, the hospital ER staff provided a Polariod camera plus materials to make hand/foot prints. It did help.
what a terrible situation...I'm glad it helped you.
guess I'll learn something in this thread about whats acceptable for other people.
We too take pictures of relatives in their coffins. It's not creepy if you loved them.
I swear this comment is on topic, if you'll go all the way to the end... :-)
When I was in high school, I ran for a city commissioner for our "Youth in Government" day. The city commission wasn't meeting, so they let me follow the police chief for the day. He took me out to the crime lab, and was showing all the stuff they had there, when one of the guys asked me if I wanted to see some autopsy photos. I said not really, but the other guy (who ran for police chief) said he would.
The cop pulls out an envelope from the one hour photo place at Wal-Mart!
I just imagined what the clerk at the photomat thought when he ran those photos!
It seems to me that people would want to remember them in times of life, rather than moments in their death.
Its not necessarily creepy to me, per se, just sort of off.
My son was born when I was 20 weeks pregnant. The only picture I have of him was after he died. Better that, than not having any picture at all. When the hospital told me that they'd take pictures of him, I thought it was a little weird, too. It was extremely hard to look at, at first. But I am forever thankful to them for this treasure. It's the only thing I have to remind me of what he looked like. I only wish I had a picture of me holding him.
I think that people back then were probably more comfortable with death. Infant, childhood, and maternal mortality, for one, was much much more common.
My wife and I lost a child too.
When it happened we purchased a "reminder statue". Just a little something I have sitting on a shelf. When I look at it I'm reminded that some day I will get to hold/know the baby I never knew. I thank Jesus that I know it'll be possible.
I didnt mean to be offensive with my "creepy" comment...while it is certainly a crude word to use I hope no one gets upset with it. Seeing as how this thread has gone...I'd erase it if I could.
Hey, I can understand that.
Here's today's equivalent: LifeGem
I'm sorry for your loss. I was not offended at all. I was just sharing my experience related to the article.
This was a custom in my family until my kids flipped out over it. I have pictures of a dead uncle in his casket, he died at age 18. Not many folks in the 1920s had cameras.
JFK's fatal head wound -- The truth for those who want to know (very graphic)
Speaking from a Funeral Directors point of view here, we get asked quite often to photograph the dead while in a casket or videotape the funeral. Obviously there's a healing process that goes on by doing this from the feedback I hear, and as I can tell by reading these replies.
This article seems to be for photographic exhibit purposes. I'm not quite sure what to think about that.
Hey - I googled my name and found this forum, anyhow, I'm the collector of the photos that are currently being exhibited the history museum. I'm glad that the show is getting such a positive response and that people are interested in my research. My website is www.newmourning.com - right now there isn't much info, but soon there will be alot more information about the history of post mortem photography for anyone who's interested - my sites condition is embaressing right now... but it should be totally rehauled very soon. and to any parents or anyone else who is interested in modern post mortem photography - should visit www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org
Hello, I am an academic researcher (graduate student) in the discipline of sociology. I specialize in the sociology of health and well being and am very interested in postmortem photography and its use in the grieving process. Do you own those photos? I have written a manuscript that I am revising and need to find some postmortem photos to accompany it for publication in a journal article. Can anyone help me?
Read the thread. Youll notice the person who can help you posted just above yours.
Follow the Star Tribune link at the top of the page and you can read the whole story. Maybe thatll give you additional sources.
Good luck and welcome to FreeRepublic.
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