The first time I heard about, and subsequently saw a Victorian post-mortem photograph I felt, as I’m sure many others did, creeped out by the whole thing. For my 21st century mind it seemed there was a real oddity to the concept of this tradition and the thought of surrounding oneself with death in this way seemed terrifying.
So why did the Victorians do it? Well the more I thought about this the less strange it seemed. So a loved one dies, perhaps before their time, one of the worst parts of the grief is that you know when they are buried you will never see them again. In an age when photography was newly accessible to the public photography made it possible to have a lasting memento and if a loved one died before their time, and had never had their photo taken there would be something their family could have as a reminder.
While contemplating the post-mortem photographs I found my mind wondering to a phenomenon which has emerged in the last few years – the funeral selfie. I cannot wholly defend the idea of this, but my contemplation of the post-mortem photography did make me re-think my opinion of some of the examples. While some show a lack of respect, others could demonstrate a way for these people to express grief in a way that they are comfortable with. Jenny Wortham of the New York Times recently wrote that the selfie could be viewed as “a kind of visual diary, a way to mark our short existence and hold it up to others as proof that we were here.” If we agree with Wortham we could argue a selfie at a funeral is poigniant – it shows a defiance against the finality and inevitability of death.
So why do you guys think the post mortem photos were taken? Can the funeral selfie be compared? Are the people who take them vain and disrespectful or is there something else going on? I’d love to hear some other opinions on these topics.
Below I have added several interesting photographs, some Victorian post-mortem an some selfies:
The protective hands over the coffin were what struck me about this image.
Compared to the image above, can we draw some parallels?
The framing of this one almost makes it look like a selfie.
The caption of this one struck me – it insinuates that there is care for the deceased grandmother and what she would think if she were there.
I was drawn to this one as there seems to be a half smile on the mother’s face.
The girl in this photo emphasises the feeling of the presence of her deceased loved one in her caption.
Jenny Wortham article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/sunday-review/my-selfie-myself.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Photos found through Google search