Post Mortem Photography: The History Of Post Mortem Photography In The Victorian Era

Post Mortem Photography: The History Of Post Mortem Photography In The Victorian Era

Photographs of loved ones taken after their death may seem morbid to modern sensibilities. But in the 1800s, taking a photo of a dead body wasn’t creepy.While in Victorian England, Post-mortem portraiture was part of the mourning process in the late 1800s and early 1900s. High mortality rates for the Victorians also led to the normalisation of post-mortem portraits, as the family might put their deceased in a domestic sense to help them grieve. Victorian life was suffocated with death. Epidemics such as diphtheria, typhus, and cholera scarred the nation, and the bereaved queen made mourning fashionable in 1861.

In an era when photos were expensive and many people had no pictures of themselves when they were alive, post-mortem photography was a way for families to remember their dead loved ones.This was particularly true of children whose mortality rate was much higher than it is now.

A Victorian-era photograph of parents
 posing with their dead daughter
Post-mortem photography began soon after the invention of photography in 1839. In these early days, no one ever posed or cleansed the bodies. A poorer family could put on a nice dress over the body of a person who died in shabbier clothes before a photographer took a picture, but there was little beautification of the corpse. But around the turn of the century, parents and photographers started to pose their dead children to these pictures around adjusting their clothes, dressing them up, or even opening their eyes also metal stands and other equipment were used to make the dead as though they were alive..

Photography became increasingly popular and affordable in the mid-1800s. The first popular medium of photography, the daguerreotype-a small , highly detailed picture of polished silver-was an expensive luxury, but not nearly as expensive as having drawn a portrait, which had previously been the only way to permanently preserve someone's image. As the number of photographers increased, the cost of daguerreotypes decreased. Less expensive techniques were adopted in the 1850s, such as the use of thin metal , glass or paper rather than silver.

Nineteenth-century photograph
 of a deceased child with flowers
Since people died in their homes rather than in hospitals during this time, photographers made house calls to take these pictures. Families kept the pictures in hard cases that they could put on their mantel or keep in private and also framed and hung on the wall.

The change to morbidity was fueled by developments in medicine and the commercialization of photography in the 1920s. As sickness shifted from a home setting to a hospital setting, death became more public. At the beginning of the 20th century, the practise fell out of fashion as photographs became more common with the arrival of a snapshot. Once snapshot became more common for people of different income levels to have photos taken during their lifetime, there was less need to capture their image in death.