Dressed in his Sunday best, a Victorian gentleman with a faraway look in his eyes sits in a chair while his photograph is taken. But if his posture seems rather unnatural, it is for good reason. He is dead. These remarkable pictures show the morbid way that the deceased were remembered in the late 19th century. The invention of the daguerreotype - the earliest photographic process - in 1839 brought portraiture to the masses. It was far cheaper and quicker than commissioning a painted portrait and it enabled the middle classes to have an affordable, cherished keepsake of their dead
Comments: Some of these may well have been the only images available of the deceased. Certainly a different approach to death than in modern times; not too long ago, wakes were held in one´s home.
Second image down appears to have had the head pasted into an older image, rather than posed as a group. Third one is heartbreaking; old cemeteries show the horrible effects of diseases that would claim many young lives.
I was going to make the same point, OP. We take photo´s for granted now, but they were expensive and time-consuming in the past. Mr. Cow has several family photos that were taken after the death of the relative in question, a bit grisly I suppose, but the only photos of that family member avalible. Mrs. Cow
My mother had a box of old pictures that I loved to go through when I was a kid. There was one picture of this beautiful baby on a small bed or maybe in a chair. She was surrounded by flowers and she was in a beautiful dress. I just thought she was sleeping (remember I was a dumb little kid). I finally asked my mom about the picture and she told me it was a picture of her dead cousin. It freaked me out. I would not look at those pictures again until she took the picture out of the box.
Tastefully taken photgraphs of the recently deceased are not grisly or morbid. They are by and large beautifully done.
I wish that when my 3 day old son died, that we had had the opportunity to take pictures of him. He had the most perfect bow shaped lips and a fingerprint sized and circled cowlick on the front of his forehead. I was terrified of forgetting what he looked like and by and large, I am afraid I have.
A few days ago when I was looking up something else, I ran across a Youtube video on this very subject. One thing I noticed, especially where babies & small children were concerned, they had them arranged beautifully with flowers & greenery as if they were sleeping angels. These children were loved & they were going to be missed. I found myself very depressed after seeing the anguished faces of some of the parents in the photos. When I really thought about it - what bothered me was the lost potential of those lives cut so short. Abortion doesn´t have a face - but the results are the same.
My mother-in-law had photos of relatives in their coffin. I don´t know why her family did this because they had plenty of photos of everyone when they were alive. I thought it was some sort of German custom, guess not.
"Bereavement photography" has become quite common, I believe, especially with parents who have lost a newborn baby. It sounds morbid to us, but for parents whose only memory of their baby´s face would be that photograph, I can understand why they would do this.
I can understand taking pictures of loved ones in coffins or before they are placed in coffins, in fact my mother asked me to take a picture of her brother in his coffin to send to their sister who couldn´t come to the funeral. One final remembrance of someone you deeply loved. However, the part about propping them up and propping their eyes open bothers me.
#11 Photographing the dead in their coffins is also very common amongst immigrants to the US, especially those with families still overseas. It´s just a matter of evidence for those unable to attend the wake and funeral that someone has actually passed, and provides closure.
Different time, different customs. In 1892, both victims in the Lizzie Borden ax murder case were autopsied on their own dining room table. Victorians also made mourning jewelry from the deceased´s hair.
As I looked at the pictures, I was noticing the fabric of the clothes they were wearing, as I do with all old pictures. And the reason I do that is because I used to see my grandmother heating her heavy irons on the wood cook stove to do her ironing and when you think of the effort it took to press all those yards of fabric that was in the ladies´ dresses and jackets it reminds me of how easy my life has been and how hard theirs was.
One of the first wakes I ever attended was of my aunt´s second husband, maybe 1968. Small western Mass town. Large 18th century farmhouse. Wake was in the living room. Traditional. But never been to one of those since.
It´s uttrly saddening looking at some of these photos, the ones with the children in particular. In those days, death visited frequently. Infant mortality rates were huge, penicillin was undiscovered, and the flu was dreaded for its implicationis health-wise. What a remarkable set of changes we´ve undergone from 150 years ago or so.
There´s something eerie about black and white photography. There´s a mystery there that is lacking in color.
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