Post-Mortem Photography: The Thanatos Archive


Last week at Soulless, we posted an Introduction to Post-Mortem Photography where we showed some examples of what exactly this type of photography entails and some basic history about where it came from. If you had an interest in this topic before we posted our article, then you probably already know something about today's topic. And if you don't, then perfect - you're in for a treat! Today at Soulless, we're taking a look at The Thanatos Archive.

The Thanatos Archive lives just outside of Seattle, Washington and is an extensive and exquisite collection of post-mortem and memorial photographs. The collection is owned and operated by Jack Mord, and contained within it are photographs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with some pieces dating back to the 1840s. The Thanatos Archive strives to collect and share these images of grief, sadness, beauty, pain, and death. The massive collection seeks to preserve these images and share them, so that we might learn, understand, and appreciate a dying form of art and grieving. Post-mortem photography is practiced only in small circles now, and the Thanatos Archive strives to bring us back to a time where this type of art lived and thrived.

The Thanatos Archive released a book in 2014 entitled Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive, which features more than 120 Victorian-era and early twentieth century photographs of death and mourning. I think the way it is described on the book's profile puts it perfectly, "The images in Beyond the Dark Veil speak to us: they speak of love, loss, lives cut short, brave final hours, shattered families, and the depths of the human spirit." These images are real - and I don't mean in the sense of are they real or fake. They are real in that they are real emotion, real raw imagery of people in mourning and in death; that's the real that the Thanatos Archive brings to life and portrays to all who are willing to open their mind - and their hearts - to it.

I wanted to share this piece and the name Thanatos Archive with you today, because I wanted to invite you to dig deeper into post-mortem photography and find an example that speaks to you. I can scroll through these pages, image by image, and I might be unmoved by a lot of it... but eventually, I'll always come across that one photo that just does me in. It hits me on a personal level - the emotion, the grief, the sadness... not every memorial photo captures it... but the ones that do, it hits hard. So this is both my introduction and my invitation to visit the Thanatos Archive Instagram page or the website at Thanatos.net and just explore. Really take some time to check out the photos that have been shared there and find those photos that hit that emotional point for you. It's out there somewhere, but once you find out, you'll learn just why post-mortem photography is so powerful. If you are interested in buying a hardcover copy of the book published by the Thanatos Archive, Beyond the Dark Veil, click here to order a copy on Amazon.


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