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Post Mortem Photography

17/May/2012

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.

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