Victorian Death Photos

November 11, 2012

Well, once again via Eva Halloween and her Year of Halloween blog I recently read the 31 Scary Things post and found out about this odd phenomena called victorian death photos. Googling it I learn that this practice followed the advent of photography and soon became part of the mourning process – especially in the USA.

Postmortem photographs were taken more than any other kind of photograph in the Victorian era. With prices being very high at the time, families rarely could afford it making these carefully staged pictures often the only ones ever taken of their subjects. Maybe considered a bit morbid seen through today’s eyes it was exactly the opposite a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago, as author Stanley Burns explains in his book Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America:

These photographs were a common aspect of American culture, a part of the mourning and memorialization process. Surviving families were proud of these images and hung them in their homes, sent copies to friends and relatives, wore them as lockets or carried them as pocket mirrors. Nineteenth-century Americans knew how to respond to these images. Today there is no culturally normative response to postmortem photographs.

Now, googling the phrase I stumbled across a myriad of pages focusing on the subject, and although some writers preferred to take the sensationalised route and use words like “creepy” I actually found most of these photographs having a sort of hauntingly beautiful quality. This is certainly not for everyone – the photos of dead children gets very heart wrenching – but you’ll find collections at Victorian Death and Mourning on Flickr here and Listverse here.


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