Permalink 11:54:00 by Sinwyn, Categories: Background

Understanding death

After last blog I started thinking about the artists I used. I know there are many more out there, but I used Sally Mann and Joel-Peter Witkin.

Witkin uses the corpses of John and Jane Does to adjust them and then makes pictures. Which are both gross and interesting at the same time, but I can't look at it too long cause I also think it's unrespectful to the dead.

Mann's photographs corpses that are given up for science. They lay on a body farm to decompose and to be a contribution to science with students learning from them and scientist finding new stuff by them decomposing under different circumstances.

This creates two whole different moods on the pictures. With Witkin's pictures it's like your invading in some serial killers basement, that makes weird pieces of art. While somehow Mann's photograph's are somewhat more serene. But not as serene as the Victorian post mortem pictures. They are laid out to look serene, to look alive. To be some kind of lie to the people that were left behind in the family.

This brings me to another photographer, Enrique Metinides. Born in Mexico to Greek immigrants, he started photographing for tabloids in 1949, when he was about 15 years old. He was the photographer for the 'bloody news'.

Metinides photographs the corpses just like they are when they just crashed, got murdered or anything else. He pretty much photographs them in their purest form if they didn't die in natural ways.

Even though he started as a photojournalist, he has made beautiful pictures of such tragic events. The colors (in the color pictures) are amazing. The photo tells a real story, it's not just a picture of a tragic event, it's so much more than that, cause he captured the right moment of the event. A moment where something is happening, a moment that shows a lot of emotion.

Metinides wasn't the only photojournalist that was later classified as art. A decade before Metinides started shooting pictures, a guy in New York was doing the same thing, his pseudonym was Weegee (the Great). He worked with the police, and selling his photographs to tabloids.  Weegee is known for changing the positions of the corpses to get the picture he wants to take. Which is different from Metinides.

Eventhough both these photographers didn't start to make art, I think their photo's contribute to the art world. They show how things we rather not look at, can be beautiful anyway. And especially the pictures of Metinides, you know what's on the picture, but somehow it mesmerizes you in such way that you can't stop looking at it.

The next artist I wanted to talk about is Maeve Berry, an Irish photographer. She made a series of photo's called Incandescence. In this series she photographs in a crematory, while corpses are being burnt, giving beautiful abstract images. Somehow this is very intimate cause you're in a place you normally wouldn't be able to come without being burnt yourself. Since the pictures are so abstract they don't feel like you're looking at a corpse being burnt to ashes. Here a few examples.

Somehow the pictures get a golden glow over them. Gold symbolizes wealth. So maybe the golden color of the pictures symbolize that this person had a good life. Or tries to indicate that. Maybe it was just the way the pictures turned out to be.

Even though these pictures are so abstract, it still feels like invading privacy cause it's so close up and personal. Another photographer that likes to be close up and personal is Andres Serrano.

Serrano has made numerous series, trying to shock the public. The Morgue is his series containing dead bodies. As the title of the works gives away, these pictures were taken in the morgue, some of them are very harmonious and serene and some are unpleasant to look at. The work is very honest. Nothing has been done to make the corpses look better. And the pictures often show discoloration.

The last picture, of the child, it reminds me of the Victorian pictures I started this research with. It looks sleeping, I know the child is deceased. It's tragic and beautiful at the same time. The picture is beautiful, the event is tragic. It brings me to the last artist I wanna describe in my blog.

Walter Schels, he captures the images of people shortly before death and after.  His series is called Life before Death. These people are alive to agree with the pictures before they die, giving it for me, a less uneasy feeling cause I know the person agreed with it. The pictures are taken in a beautiful respectful way, only their face is shown. They knew they were going to die, which gives the alive pictures more intense looks. Most people look directly into the camera. But I sense no sadness in their eyes. It almost looks like they have found peace in their fate.

You can really feel that Schels has tried to make the pictures as respectful as possible. You feel he felt with these people. I think this is a beautiful series of photographs. It's honest but respectful. These people died, but we wont forget them. It gives peace with the dead, unlike Witkin's pictures that just give you a feeling of nausea.

The question I was researching, "Why am I interested in death?" I still don't know the answer to it. I do know that I feel more interested in the respectful way of showing ones death. When celebrated life, death can be beautiful. Knowing we celebrate the life of that person, even if it was short. So, maybe my interest doesn't lay in death itself, but it lays in the life that comes before it. Death is just the end of something great, life. And maybe that's what I'm looking for, but I think it's too early to know that now. Maybe I don't wanna know the answer to my research question, cause it would mean I understand death.


Permalink 15:54:00 by Sinwyn, Categories: Background

Post Mortem Photography

Since photography was discovered in 1826, people started wanting to put their memories into pictures, especially memories of people.

Photography was, however, very expensive. Rich people could afford it, the middle class, couldn't afford it and had to save up money for it. The only picture they would get taken was their wedding picture.

Victorian Post Mortem Photo

However, not everyone made it to that age. Children would often die before reaching that age, not having any picture of them to memorize them with. That's why, if a child died, they would lay them somewhere, trying to make them look as if they were alive, and mostly make them look as if they were sleeping, to make a picture, so they would still have a memory of their deceased child.

This tradition went on a long time, until photography started getting cheaper and more people could afford it and could afford to make pictures more often than only your wedding day.

Victorian Post Mortem Photo

I think the pictures are honorable. Some may say they're creepy, but for me they do not give such an effect. I think they're beautiful, it's beautiful how people want to remember their loved one. And that's a piece I think is most important to the pictures. The thought behind them.

Nowadays it's less common to have pictures of your deceased loved ones. It still happens though, when a child is stillborn. Parents would still like a picture to memorize them with, even though their child didn't live.

There are artists now that use the post mortem as their theme.

One very famous artist is Sally Mann. Which photographed at a body farm, bringing on some beautiful pictures.

Sally Mann 2010

Sally Mann 2010

After some more research I stumbled upon the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. He mutilates dead bodies of unknown people (John/Jane Does) to meet up with his artistic vision of what he wants in a picture. To me, this is a bridge too far, even though he's a good photographer and I love his work of living people. This isn't honorable anymore like the Victorian post mortem photography my interest goes out to a lot. This is not what you do to people in my opinion, it's not respectful. I also wonder how this kind of art can be legal, I tried to search the internet for answers, but I couldn't find any.

Joel-Peter Witkin

Joel-Peter Witkin

Right now my search continues, to find more artists, and more answers to why this subject intrudes me so much. I found out that, the work of Joel-Peter Witkin makes me very uncomfortable if I watch it. It gives me a sense of a freakshow you shouldn't look at, cause it's not within my moral ways of thinking. It kicks against borders, and goes way over them for almost everyone. I feel like you have to be sick, to like this work of him.

Yet other, more respectful work, like Sally Mann's, does intrude me. Her bodies are mutilated by nature on the body farm. But she doesn't take them out of context, she just photographs the corpses like they are. Besides, they are there for science, she got permission to photograph there.

Two totally different stories, yet, the pictures do not differ that much, but the story behind them makes it that I can look at Sally Mann's pictures without feeling uncomfortable, and as if I'm in someone serial killers basement. Somehow they give me some kind of serene feeling like the Victorian Post Mortem photo's do.

It's all about the story.


Permalink 12:57:00 by Sinwyn, Categories: Welcome

Rituals in death.

I've always been interested in death, ever since I was a teenager. Death is immediately connected with life. No life is possible without death. Death is the end result of life.

Considering my own interest in death, I am not sure where it comes from. Maybe it is that I was still born en only live because I was resuscitated. Maybe I saw the “other site” and therefore I am not able to let it go completely.

Or maybe it is because I have been depressed for a long time because of an insufficiency of thyroxine and I often thought death would mean rest and peace for me. Whatever it is, death fascinates me and I am not the only one interested in death.

Humans have been interested in death, since the early start of civilisation, middle palaeolithic (middle stone age), which started over 300,000 years ago. This is around the time that the first Homo Sapiens and the first Homo Neanderthalensis appeared.

Over the centuries people were interested in death. Every nation and religious group had and have their own rituals around death.


Kunst brengt nieuwe rituelen rondom de dood

Van onze verslaggever Merlijn Schoonenboom − 19/10/06, 07:54

In fort Vijfhuizen in Haarlem is gisteren de eerste grafsteen gelegd voor een kunstproject van Hans van Houwelingen. Van Houwelingen hoopt ongeveer 250 grafstenen bij elkaar te brengen op een wal achter het 19de-eeuwse fort, dat sinds een paar jaar dienst doet als expositieruimte....

De grafstenen worden ‘gerecycled’: Van Houwelingen vraagt via begraafplaatsen aan nabestaanden of grafstenen van geruimde graven gebruikt kunnen worden. ‘Moreel en juridisch is alles doorgesproken.’

Bij de eerste ‘steenlegging’ hadden de nabestaanden bloemen meegenomen. Volgens Van Houwelingen, die veel bekende kunstwerken in de openbare ruimte heeft gemaakt, ervaren de nabestaanden dat de steen ‘nu pas echt rust heeft gevonden’.

Het project Sluipweg (waar langs de dood heeft weten te ontsnappen) (www.kunstfort.nl) verwijst volgens de kunstenaar in eerste instantie naar het fort zelf: een plek gemaakt om te vechten en te sterven, maar waar in werkelijkheid niets is gebeurd. ‘Om de romantische mythe te bestendigen, wilde ik er de dood introduceren.’

Daarnaast gaat het Van Houwelingen om ‘na te denken over de dodencultuur in Nederland’. Herdenken en herinneren is ingewikkeld geworden, en ‘eeuwige rust erg betrekkelijk’: ‘Je kunt geen graf meer kopen, alleen nog huren voor tien, misschien twintig jaar. Daarna wordt het geruimd.’ Grafstenen, die nabestaanden ter beschikking stellen, krijgen op zijn Sluipweg wel een permanente plek, zodat er een ‘eigen cultuur’ omheen kan ontstaan.

Volgens Ellen Klaus van Stichting Kunst in de Openbare Ruimte (SKOR) is er ‘een toenemende belangstelling vanuit de kunst voor het overlijden en afscheid nemen’. Zo worden steeds vaker, ook dankzij versoepelde wetten rondom begraven, kunstenaars ingeschakeld bij begrafenissen.

Vandaag heeft SKOR een reis georganiseerd langs begraafplaatsen in Nederland waar kunstenaars werk hebben gemaakt. Niet alleen grafobjecten, met als bekendste voorbeeld de sculptuur bij het graf van Roxy-oprichter Peter Giele, maar ook nieuwe rituelen en zelfs herdenkingsruimten. Als voorbeeld noemt zij een performance van Ida van der Lee op de Amsterdamse begraafplaats de Nieuwe Ooster, dat nu in gewijzigde vorm door de begraafplaats is overgenomen.

Van Houwelingen vindt het niet vreemd dat kunstenaars vaker bij het herdenken worden ingezet: ‘Ik zoek al vijftien jaar naar nieuwe formules en rituelen voor herdenken. In het modernisme werd dat minder belangrijk gevonden. Maar Nederland schreeuwt om identiteit.’

Rituals are changing as they have changed during all past centuries. Nowadays art is more often included in saying goodbye to our loved ones.

Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis were probably the first people who buried their deads. Graves were found with people laying with there hands near there face. Presumably this had a ritual function. Where it will end, nobody knows. What rituals are common between Homo Neanderthalensis and nowadays, I will get to in my other blogs.

Bronnen: http://books.google.nl/books?id=yg0gufmAunIC&pg=PA213&lpg=PA213&dq=rituelen+rond+de+dood+homo+sapiens&source=bl&ots=GPcFz9F43R&sig=aDWuetZeM8ecWdzJxZ8RdveW9C4&hl=nl&sa=X&ei=zAaDT-WoA4bM0QWP1-H5Bg&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=rituelen%20rond%20de%20dood%20homo%20sapiens&f=false