Posted by: irisestellerobinson | October 3, 2014

The funeral selfie – post-mortem photography for the 21st century?

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:

Casket post mortem

The protective hands over the coffin were what struck me about this image.

open casket selfie

Compared to the image above, can we draw some parallels?

group post mortem

The framing of this one almost makes it look like a selfie.

funeral 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.

mother and child post mortem

I was drawn to this one as there seems to be a half smile on the mother’s face.

ashes selfie

The girl in this photo emphasises the feeling of the presence of her deceased loved one in her caption.

Sources:

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


Responses

  1. Fascinating! I didn’t know much about funeral selfies, but I’m curious about how these images circulate. Although I’m not an expert, I believe that postmortem photographs in the nineteenth century would be objects that remained in the family, private mementos for family viewing. But seeing how a few of these selfies have been posted on Twitter and Facebook, they seem more like public memorials with a much wider audience. Of course this raises questions about funerary rituals — who gets to see the dead body and participate in mourning, for example. What a great post.

  2. IRIS. OH MY GOODNESS.

    This is really interesting. For some reason, I feel like the modern ones are in poor taste. I wonder why that is, though? Because the old ones are pretty much the same thing. Maybe it’s because now there are more ways of documenting someone while they’re alive…so doing it after death seems more….weird? I don’t know.

    This post made me laugh!

  3. I think you’re right about the circulation of the funeral selfies, they are posted on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. then I have found they are sometimes compiled on Tumblr (for example: http://selfiesatseriousplaces.tumblr.com) or I think I once saw a Buzzfeed article, usually with a tone like ‘look what has happened to kids these days, they are so inappropriate.’ So while they do definitely have a wider audience, I’m not sure how wide the audience was intended to be for these images.


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