Thursday, December 17, 2009

Postmortem Photography

Since my co-worker started the subject I think I will just continue with it. I have started a small collection of postmortem photography as many people have. I am often shocked at the price these photos are sold for at swap meets, eBay, and many other places. They even are showing up at photography shows all matted and framed with huge price tags. I remember my art professor telling us that we see art not only through our eyes but with all of our senses including emotions, so maybe that is part of my fascination with it. I also collect cemetery art photos if that explains anything.

The hardest part in this type of collection is looking for the clues. Some are obvious such as the family gathered around the coffin or loved one as they appear to be taking a nap on a sofa. While this seems creepy to us today we have to remember the times. In the second half of the 19th century and first part of the 20th century when this was widely practiced it often was the only time they could get a photo of the whole family together. The middle class was the largest group to take part in this custom so don't always assume only the wealthy took part as many people do.

The primary reason that it took place was because the mortality of young children was so high it was sometimes the only chance the relatives living elsewhere had to see them. It also may of been the only opportunity to get a photo of the person. Grieving also came into play here it was felt that by having a last photo of the deceased could quicken the grieving process and pay tribute to them.


  1. My father was an undertaker, and I remember an occasion when I was in my teens, when a photographer arrived with lights, tripod, and camera. He set up the lights in the front of the chapel, stuck the camera on the tripod and preceded to photograph the entire scene, flowers, casket, the deceased's body and all. It must have been in the early 1960's. I was fascinated, but unbelieving; perhaps because I had no memory of a previous photo shoot under such circumstances.

    I distinctly remember asking Dad, "Why are they taking pictures?" He looked at me for a long time, and finally replied that sometimes relatives live far away or are otherwise unable to attend a wake and funeral.

    I never saw a photographer under those circumstances again, but did become familiar with postmortem photography through my genealogical research.

  2. I have been following your blog for about two months now, and I find it so very interesting.

    My wife and I go to ghost towns here in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, and always look for the cemeteries, and read the markers.

    Your presentations always make me want to go pack a bag and find another cemetery.

    Thanks for all the interesting facts.

  3. Tom, Thanks for reading our blog. You are so lucky there are some wonderful ghost towns and cemeteries out west. We visit Utah, Neveda, California, Colorado from time to time and my husband always treats me to a cemetery adventure. They seem to appear out of no where.
    Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful holiday season.