Snapping the Dead. Post Mortem Photography.
by Steve Huff
Over the many years that I have been a photographer I have taken hundreds of thousands of photographs. Many of them for my camera review site that I run full-time and others for my own personal memories. I have hard drives filled with photos from the past 20 years from film scans to full on digital. I have taken many photos, but never have I taken photos like you are about to see here in this article. I have taken photos of SPIRITS, but never of a dead body that has already had the soul depart.
Over the years I have researched all kinds of photography as well as photographers. Reading a good photo book is something I find quite therapeutic and one subject that I was always amazed and intrigued by (although it used to creep me out) is “Post-Mortem Photography”. But growing up some would have called ME a morbid kind of guy. I was the type who was into horror movies by age 6 and collected monster dolls and Ouija Boards by age 9. So for me to be fascinated by all of this is quite normal 🙂 What is post-mortem photography you ask?
Well, basically it is taking portraits of the recently deceased. Back in the Victorian ages it was common to have a family portrait taken when someone in the family passed away and there are many reasons for this but the main reason is because cameras were in no way prevalent back then. They were basically owned by those who were well off or ran a business taking photos.
Because of this, it was not common for people back then to be able to take a snapshot of their families as not many could afford to hire out someone on a regular basis to take shots/portraits, so for most, this was reserved for death. It was nothing like today where everyone has a camera on them at all times (the iPhone is the worlds #1 camera).
Cameras as we know them today were not even invented yet so having a photo of a loved one was a special gift that was treasured and the only way for someone to really remember the physical person they once knew and loved. You can read the Wiki on this subject HERE.
When you look back at this early practice today it seems morbid, creepy and for some..it will seem just plain wrong or disturbing. When I sit back, close my eyes and transport my mind back to the early 1800’s I can picture how people lived, worked and died – I can envision it with a crystal clarity. If I lived back then I would probably want a photo of my deceased family member or pet as well. Remember, memories in print were just not common so having even one photo would mean so much.
Back in the 1800’s there was virtually no type of conveniences to be found, not even something as simple as taking a photo so what we may perceive as creepy today, was very normal back in the 1800’s.
But do not think that this practice is 100% gone from todays society! Many still practice this “ritual” and many cherish those photos that they take at a funeral.
In fact, when I was a teen I remember going to a funeral for an Uncle of mine and his family was gatherd around and taking photos of him in his coffin. Even today there are some who do this though they do not talk about it so much. It is sort of one of those things that is not really mentioned. But it is done, and it is done by many more than you may think. Personally, I see nothing wrong with it and if someone wants to do this because it gives them comfort in some way then more power to them.
As for death, I personally do not fear death in any way, shape or form as I know it is coming eventually and I know that there is something out there waiting for all of us..I mean, we know this now as fact. As for post-mortem photography, take a look at some classic examples below and let me know how YOU feel about these photos that were so normal back in the early 1800’s.
What was seen as something beautiful back then..well..today many will see it as grotesque or wrong. Either way, it is part of photographic history, like it or not.
But beware, some of these are disturbing! So take a peek at your own risk.
Supposedly, this is A Post-Mortem photo session from the 1800’s
and now some photos that are all said to be post-mortem portraits…