An Introduction to Post-Mortem Photography

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia:

Post-mortem photography has become a popular subject on the Internet over the past few years, with people becoming slightly obsessed with collecting the images both on and off line. But for those who have never heard the term before - there's a good chance you've at least seen a post-mortem photo before. What exactly are we talking about?! Read on!

Post-mortem photography is the practice of photographing deceased family members and friends. Its popularity grew in the nineteenth century when photography became more accessible to people, but remember, photography was not how it is it today! Back then, the daguerreotype process is how photography was done, and the process required a much longer exposure time than the cameras we use today. As a result, the deceased became perfect subjects for the daguerreotype - you didn't have to worry about them moving. The dead would simple be placed in a chair or somewhere sturdy (there are arguments about whether actual stands were used during post-mortem photography or not) and the photographing process would begin. The family or friends of the deceased would be able to choose if the person being photographed was shot by themselves, like this man in the image to the right, or if the deceased was joined with their siblings, parents, or whoever else might be in the picture. Since many children passed away at a very early age back when post-mortem photography was in its prime, there are many photographs of parents holding their young children in their arms - these photographs speak a million words. The photos captured the sadness in their eyes - it's haunting but absolutely beautiful at the same time. Post-mortem photography became very popular because back then, death occurred at home. In modern times, when someone is sick or dying, we often will have them transported to a hospice or hospital to have their staff help make the persons final days as easy and as comfortable for them as possible. But back then, this was done at home - the family and friends would be by the dying ones' bedside as their final moments were upon them. So having death in the actual home just kinda helped post-mortem photography make sense.

In the early days of post-mortem photography, the photographs were often close-ups of the face or upper body. They often did not include the coffin in the photographs, and tried to make the deceased look like they were asleep and as natural as possible. In later years, families began having the deceased photographed in their coffins, sometimes even with funeral attendees around the coffins sides. This was more-so popular in Europe than it was in the United States, however. Believe it or not, post-mortem photography is still practiced today, mostly in Eastern Europe, while it is considered taboo in other parts of the world.

Stay tuned to Soulless for a more in-depth look at post-mortem photography!