Where Did the Tradition Of Death Photography Emerge From?
Virtually every culture has a way to remember a loved one who has died. Usually this comes in the form of some type of memorial or even picture of the departed. However, some cultures have also chosen to show the deceased after death, sometimes in a pose or lying or seated in state. The tradition of post-mortem portraits and photography were popular in the 19th century but they have never gone away and this tradition is still practiced in some cultures.
Beginnings of Post-Mortem Portraits and Photography
In the 1840s, daguerreotype photography made the idea of portraits popular among the middle classes. Previously, only wealthy classes were able to afford and commission portraits of themselves. While technology began to rapidly change in the mid-19th century, opening up new possibilities for consumerism, other trends that were common before this continued. Perhaps among the most telling was the trend of high infant mortality and high mortality among urban populations that were exposed to new forms of infectious diseases, including high incidences of cholera. High death rates and increasing population meant a new market began to emerge in many industrial countries as families experienced the sharp loss of loosing a loved one while looking for ways to memorialize them. This began the tradition of death or post-mortem portraits. There were earlier, Medieval and early modern traditions in Europe, in sculpture and paintings, that showed the body or deceased in different form of decay after they had died. These were mostly to remind people of the presence of death and the need for Christ and God to save someone from eternal decay. However, showing someone almost immediately after they died in a portrait was a new, mid-19th century tradition that emerged in Great Britain, United States, and in Europe.