Thursday, 12 November 2009

TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE DEAD



The VV will not dwell on this subject, but there was a trend in the Victorian era for using the relatively new art of portrait photography to create a record of the deceased.

Some pictures even showed the dead as if they were still living, being washed and clothed in their Sunday best, even arranged in a natural pose, side by side with their parents and siblings. Such a concept may appear bizarre - not to say extremely disturbing today; but for many poorer families this would have been the only occasion when they could justify the cost of employing a professional photographer. And, although we take it for granted now that family snapshots record the lives of our loved ones while they are alive, that single post-mortem image may well have been the only visible record of what had been a cherished life.

The VV will post one image here. It is a very poignant scene in which two living children stand beside the bed in which the body of their sister lies. The living look brave and resigned, and yet they are blurred, almost 'ghostly' in form, and that is due to the length of time needed for the exposure of the film. 

The reason their sister looks so clear is because, in death, she was quite still. 

4 comments:

  1. Cynthia Barlow Marrs14 November 2009 19:39

    Very moving, thank you for this. Sorry it took me so long to read it -- lots of catching up to do on the Virtual Victorian

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  2. Thank you, Cynthia. It is a moving photograph - the pictures of other relatives on the walls - the doll behind the bed. To post it seemed almost like an invasion of privacy.

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  3. I have a few such pictures of some my ancestors siblings. Yes, they are rather distressing to look at...

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  4. That's quite something to own, Neo-Victorianist - must be particularly moving if the pictures are of your own relations.

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