Jan 062014
 

Strange Past: Post Mortem Photography

by Steve Huff

NOTE: WOW, this post has been viewed over 250,000 times in just 36 hours which is insane and more than any other post ever in the history of this website! Out of almost 240 comments there were 3 or 4 attacking me for posting this, which is about 100 less than I thought :) Yes, this is a part of history and a part of OUR history as human beings. It is not wrong, it is not disturbing and it is absolutely in no way wrong to post about this part of photography that many of us either did not even know about or ignored. So if viewing images of deceased people bother you, then DO NOT look. There are images of adults and children but remember, this was a normal part of life in the early 1800′s. View at your own risk and if you do view and decide it bothered you then do not attack me in a comment, Personal attacks in comments are never and will never be tolerated. Two comments out of over 200 had to be removed for personal name calling attacks. That has never been tolerated here and never will. 

Over the last 20 years I have taken probably close to 400,000 photographs. Many of them just for this blog in reviews and my various travels and others that were snapped over the years of my family, vacations, and life in general. But over these years I have also read many books, browsed the works of others and have also researched the history of photography. One subject that I was always amazed by (although it used to creep me out) is “Post-Mortem Photography”.

Yes, taking portraits of the recently deceased. Back in the Victorian ages it was common to have a family portrait taken when someone in the family died. The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made it more affordable to families who wanted to remember their loved ones after they have passed.

It was not common for families back then to be able to take a snapshot of their families as not many could afford to hire out someone on a regular basis to take shots/portraits, so for most, this was reserved for death. Cameras as we know them today were not invented yet so having a photo of a loved one was a special gift that was treasured and the only way for someone to really remember the physical person they once knew and loved. You can read the Wiki on this subject HERE.

When you look back at this early practice today it seems morbid, creepy and for some..it will seem just plain wrong. When I sit back, close my eyes and transport my mind back to the early 1800′s I can picture how people lived, worked and died. If I lived back then I would probably want a photo of my deceased family member or pet as well. Remember, memories in print were just not common so having even one photo would mean so much.

Today we take the power of a camera, a digital sensor or a roll of film for granted. Because technology is everywhere and is getting more and more crazy by the day we have everything at our fingertips and can access any information at any given time, no matter where we are. Many of us forget what photography really is all about.

Back in the 1800′s there was virtually no type of conveniences to be found, not even something as simple as taking a photo so what we may perceive as creepy today, was very normal back in the 1800′s.

But do not think that this practice is 100% gone from todays society. In fact, when I was a teen I remember going to a funeral of a relative of mine and his family was taking photos of him in his coffin. Entire family portraits as well as they gathered around him. Even today there are some who do this though they do not talk about it so much. I think for the most part it is no longer done because we have the ability to take photos of our loved ones every day if we so desire, so remembering them as they were in life is always better than remembering them after death.

As for death, I personally do not fear death in any way, shape or form as I know it is coming eventually, but that is another story for another day. As for post-mortem photography, take a look at some classic examples below and let me know how YOU feel about these photos that were so normal back in the early 1800′s. What was seen as something beautiful back then..well..today many will see it as grotesque or wrong. Either way, it is part of photographic history, like it or not.

But beware, some of these are disturbing and may upset some of you who are very sensitive. So take a peek at your own risk.

Supposedly, this is A Post-Mortem photo session from the 1800′s

atwork

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and now some photos that are all said to be post-mortem portraits…

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Postmortem_man

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pm99

pm145

pmf

pmj

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pmpets

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  304 Responses to “Strange Past: Post Mortem Photography”

    • Too weird. Especially the dog.

      • “Especially the dog”
        Really? There are dead babies up there and you think the most disturbing is a dog?

        • I thought the dog was the only non-creepy one!

        • Hey, to each their own. It’s very understandable in a way.

        • HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH. I didn’t really find any of it disturbing though.

        • They didn’t say “the most disturbing is a dog”, they said that the inclusion of the dog was especially weird. I agree. No need to flip out at people or twist their words. Too much of that going around online.

          • I agree as well. I can kind of understand taking pictures of deceased children back then. I mean, it’s not like you could take out your phone and snap a picture of your child anytime you wanted too back then. Those were probably the only pictures they had to let the world know those children ever exsisted. Creepy as it may be for us now, those were taken back then for keep sake…so you could remember what your lost child looked like. That being said, I agree the dog one is rather odd.

            • I think it’s awesome that they cared enough about their dog to do something so elaborate.

              • Thank you for that lovely comment.

              • Actually, they look like a rich family that could afford to treat their dog like a child. People to the same thing today by spending thousands of dollars on animal medical care.

              • Perhaps the dog was their child, or at least a replacement for a child they could not have……..then of course they would want to have a lasting reminder of their beloved pet.

              • The way I feel about my dogs I can understand taking a pic of them, if I had the money back then I would have done it

            • I just can’t imagine makeing the living kids pose with thier dead sibling..that’s what’s creepy to me..what Stephanie said above does make sense about not having pictures taken..

          • No word twisting, when I read “Weird, especially the dog”, I understand, “it’s all very weird, even more so, the dog”. No judgement here, to each his own.
            Personally I do think they are all disturbing, and even more so when the defunct has his/her eyes opened. And in particular that last one.

            So many kids and babies…

            Although dealing with death is timeless and universal, these photos while being moving, seem anachronistic.

            Thanks for the post!

        • For somebody who actually has a dog and cares about him/her, it is sad to look at pictures of dead dogs.

          Psychologically, dogs are a lot like small children. Not that smart, but all about emotion. To care about a dog is understandable as fuck.

    • I have seen some of these pics before….very interesting. In some, it is hard to say who is the dead person.

    • found this fscinating and sad but maybe the people of those days wanted to still remember there family in death before decomposition

    • Wow, the last one was so scary…

    • I was not horrified by this. On the contrary it made me feel sad. Today we take photography for granted. To these people, a single photo was an expense that they could not afford in their lifetimes. When a loved-one died, they would take a photo because that was the only way that years later they would know what that person had looked like (those memories fade over time). These photos might be the only link a person might have with a beloved parent, grandparent or child.

      • Well said. We take photos for granted now, but for these people it was a lasting way to remember them. Makes me sad too.

        The dog photo doesn’t surprise me. When my friend’s cat died, he was sad for two months, so I can understand the attachment people have to animals.

  1. Thanks for sharing. These are fascinating.

    • had to comment to you response as i too found them fascinating as being able to see spirit and communicate it was interesting to see some photos of people no longer with us – after all there is nothing to fear as if they didn’t hurt you in life why would they want to hurt you in death and after all these grieving families probably only had this one photo to remember a loved one, including the dog one after all isn’t it said that a dog is mans best friend

      • We took pictures of my mother in her casket in 2009. It is not disturbing at all, it is lovely to see that the soul has passed.

        • When my son died in 1997 we took pictures of him in the hospital and it looked like he was just sleeping. So it doesn’t disturb me to see the pictures it just makes me sad that a lot of them were of children.

          • I agree with Paula my angel daughter passed away 2007. I took photo’s of my daughter at the hospital and it just look like my angel was asleep.
            The photo’s don’t freak me out or those photo’s doesn’t even disturb me because a lot of them were children. I am so sad. After a child passes away the only memories we grieving parents has got is of our children

      • I’m sorry, when you said, able to see spirit and communicate, are you referring to the dead? Because your opinion on most things, including the creep factor of this “hobby,” immediately becomes invalid if so.

  2. Oh my god

  3. The rituals surrounding death, as disturbing as they may appear to our eyes now, always serve a sociocultural purpose befitting the era in question.

    What strikes me is that the posing necessitated by long shutterspeeds and tripods seems to drain those left behind of nearly all visible emotion.

    • You know what I love about the shutter speed thing in Victorian post-mort photos” In some, the dead person is crystal clear… but because of the subtle movements while waiting for the exposure to be finished… the living are blurred. It makes the dead look “real” and the living look like the ghosts. That’s always creeped me out but also intrigued me on an artistic level

  4. Strange way this new year to begin, i think. But very interesting on the history plan.

  5. As a genre Post Mortem images gave been around for centuries with artists doing deathbed scenes. Perhaps it is the modern determination to make death something unseen and clinical that makes us uncomfortable – someone dies, normally in a hospital, nursing home or hospice, the doctor confirms death grew undertaker arrives and next is the burial or cremation – all taken care of for us. The victorian deathbed scene where everyone gathers round while the person dies, which must be enough to tell them to go quickly are probably easier as a documented painting that an actual photograph; while Jacob Riis and other crime victim images, ie Jack the Ripper, provide harsh accounts of unpleasant death. I have seen some moving documentary photography from photographers whose relatives were dying over a long period and they documented their last -x months, but a reintroduction of family portraits with recent departed… could just imagine the photographers adverts!

  6. Urgh… perhaps a bigger warning on the fact that most of the photos are of dead children. Adults I can deal with, kids – no. Not good.

  7. Steve,

    This is a fascinating glimpse into the past. Considering how stilted conventional portraits of the era ordinarily look due to the restrictions of the media of the day, for the most part your examples would still pass as conventional family studio shots. It is only with the knowledge that the main subject is deceased that they take on a different meaning and which, for some, may be disturbing. But in all ohter respects the portraits don’t look out of the ordinary for living subjects of that era.

    Considering that the working class of the day could not afford to have family photos taken as a matter of course, which we take for granted today – virtually everyone has access to or uses a camera, a studio photo would be reserved for a very special occasion, and not even a birth is likely to be one. Working class families had many children as the mortality rate was very high, so I doubt a birth would have the same impact as the death of a child, whom one had got to know for however short a period.

    The images I do find a little macabre are those where the deceased has been posed in a coffin, but the others not so.

    Thanks for posting some interesting images from the past.

  8. Very thought provoking post, thanks Steve. I had no idea about this type of photography. And it’s so true, the preservation of memories was then and is still one of the main reasons we take pictures.

  9. A very moving post , Steve.
    What gave me the creeps though, were theese images with the deceased’s eyes open.

  10. That one pic of the lady was better then a horror movie–Strange. Live people were posing AS good as the dead ones with no remorse in their faces How WEIRD

    • I think the “no remorse” on the faces of the living has more to do with the fact that technology at the time required that you sit absolutely still for quite a long time. Hard to hold a smile or grief-stricken expression at exactly the same degree for 20 minutes or more!

  11. I think it is very special, and very fascinating. I have experienced quite a few dead people, and without trying to be creepy or disrespectful I think death has its own kind of beauty.

    • Well said I love to look at the love theses people had for their loved ones and I would do the same in the era I think it should be done today also

  12. Heart breaking images Steve. I hate to be a parent who has lost a child and decides to check in on their favourite photography blog though….. I’d advise a sterner warning on the content of the images regarding deceased children. Powerful images but I can’t say I am glad to have seen them…

    • The web if full of things you may or may not want to see.. Discretion should always be advised. That being said, death is a normal part of life and the title did say “Post Mortem Photography”.. Not sure what part of that title is misleading….

      • Post Mortem means just that. Post Mortem. Try not to blame this person because your curiosity STILL got the best of you after you had been warned. I think these pictures are very interesting. I love old photos of any kind!

    • Of course, being such old photographs, even the ‘living’ in the photographs will be long since dead. Which is why old photographs always make me feel a little sad for what was lost.

  13. Yep, it’s creepy. But I’m reminded of the old cliche, “Death is a part of life.” As one gets older, one realizes this is the truth and not necessarily something to be terrified about. It just is.

  14. Yes, creepy by today’s standards for sure however, I agree, that when you really taking a hard look at life at that time one can agree that people felt this to be something special for them in their grief. I wonder though if the trauma of actually sitting there for long period of time to ‘get the shot’ didn’t damper the memory a bit. Posing the body most have been awkward to say the least. And I’m not sure about the one that looks like she was burned. I think that memory would have been better left alone! whoa!

  15. Steve, what a great and exceptional and intriguing post! Thanks!

  16. Great post! Creepy but makes a lot of sense.

    gage

  17. I was pleasantly surprised by how well most of those turned out. In the past, I’ve seen some that looked pretty obviously bad. Most of those photographs were so nicely done that I can definitely understand wanting to preserve the memory, and even display the photo.

  18. I don’t like this article

  19. I’m fascinated by Victorian postmortem photography. The man with his beautiful, dead wife is the saddest one, for me. I can see the love and pain in his face. The girl with her dolls is lovely. Not crazy about the photo of the woman with her skin sluffing off. Too many babies and children passed in those times. There is a lovely photo of a baby lying on its side next to a pond, a tiny hand almost dragging the water. The photo of the deceased dog is wonderful! First time I have seen a postmortem with a dog as the subject.

  20. What a neat post, thanks. This is actually a hobby of mine for a few years now I have collected Victorian era post mortem cabinet photos. I have several very interesting ones including the “hidden mother ones” those are very interesting and creepy. they would would have the mother posing or holding the baby but throw a black or white sheet over her to hide her out of the picture. Of course instead it just made it look more creepy lol but very interesting! :)

  21. Creeptastic.

  22. It’s ok, wasn’t gonna sleep tonight anyway..

  23. Ugh!
    Lance

  24. What’s going on in the 6th picture? Who is behind the chair with the deceased child in it?

  25. My daughter is a ‘Medical Photographer’ at the local hospital. Her subjects are usually (but not exclusively) alive. It’s a terribly ghoulish job. We’ve stopped asking her what she did at work and we don’t eat liver at home any longer. She finds the work engaging and fulfilling. I prefer to shoot landscapes…

    • I was a crime scene photographer for a couple of weeks…yes weeks. My first job was a domestic violence that turned into homicide. Needless to say I quit after that. All moments in life and death, good and bad need to be documented in some way.

      • A friend of mine was a forensic photographer for a while. He once got sent a pair of hands by courier to photograph. They were too decomposed to take fingerprints from, but with the right lighting they could be seen.

  26. You know why I loved this? Cuz it gives us a glimpse of our _own_ culture/era’s sensibilities and limitations.

    Those people were generally closer to the frontier mentality, where you were not as shielded from all the realities of human existence as we are. Whatever happened, you dealt with it personally. Death was one of those realities.

    Today we’re so protected from the reality of our dead loved ones’ physical bodies — a specialist comes and hides the decaying grimness from us.
    I bet we’re slower mourners than they were in the 19th century.

    • That is a brilliant observation!

      • An excellent observation (pbass wil). Maybe we wouldn’t take so, so, much for granted in our over privelidged world, if we were just a little closer to our loved one’s corpse. Needless to say, cultures around the world, often less econmically wealthy than our’s (assuming Euro/Western/Christian predominantly), have a far more intimate engagement with newly deceased relatives. Seeing my own Father laid out in a motuary changed my views and reaffirmed much that I believe. It wasn’t a pleasent experience but one I have taken satisfaction from. I knew the live, living person, I knew the empty body. I knew the departed life had left the body. Easy to say and write this, now, not at the time, but it becomes a definate reality. You find you treasure life so much more, having seen a dead person in the flesh, without any doubts. I’ve been in the photographic industry for many years and the British practise of photographing a recently deceased member of the family is far more common than most who’ve posted here seem to/like to think. I’ve printed many dead baby photos and non-look as well presented as these do here. The sepia images and the photographic styling of the (Victorian/Edwardian) period is comparitively sympathic to the newly departed. Modern images in often ill-advised garments and glaring detailed HD colours and even older styled Kodak toned images, does not favour the look of the dead, yet those images exsist. Less sympathic still, when pre-birth deformations/diseases/accident traumas are significant. I guess until you lose a dearly loved one, you’re not likely to know whether a post-life image has a significant purpose for yourself. I only hope you don’t have to suffer such, but sadly some haven’t that choice. God love them all.

  27. Thank you for sharing this Steve. It is a great way to keep histrory “alive”. At first this practice does seem strange and morbid, but given the different time and availability to photography it doesn’t seem so out of place for one to want to honor their loved one. I had a baby a few years ago that was stillborn and now wish I had a photo to remember her with.

  28. for those of us who have lost children shortly after birth, the hospital frequently steps up and takes pictures of the baby, in several different tasteful poses. if it was not for this practice i would not have any pictures of my son at all. it has been something we have actually practiced in our family. whenever a loved one dies, i am there to take pictures of them, as it is their last photo. i have found that it is becoming more common again to get that ‘last photo’ of their loved one.

    • I was thinking something along the same lines. I lost a baby too and I am extremely grateful for the pictures the hospital took. I bet these pictures were helpful to the grieving process for these parents.

  29. Sad but interesting

  30. really says something about the time period, mortality rate of children etc., and so unnatural looking the dead ones are always clearer in the photo than the live ones. Uggg this is morbidly fascinating and gives me the chills.

  31. Just what is the point in showing these photographs.
    Is this what this site has lowered itself to, showing deceased children. And don’t for a second tell me that I don’t understand. I’ve been a professional photographer now for 43 years and I’ve never seen anything posted such as this.

    • It is an important part of photographic history. If you can not deal with it or accept that death is a part of life then do not read or look. When you saw the title you should have simply not clicked or read..but you did. Then you insult me and my website. Silly, and no, you do not understand.

        • Jim, consider your photographic experience ‘charmed’. I’ve worked for Kodak processing laboratories and The Northern Echo newspaper. I’ve seen many photographs of dead people, some posed for purposes such as these demonstrated here. You may find the idea unpleasent, it is. These practises exsist and from what I’ve seen here and eslewhere, my considered opinion is they do serve a very significant and valid purpose. It seems the poster of these images has provided adequate, respectful warning and presentation of the images. I commend him.

      • Thank you for a very moving post, Steve. We scattered my Mum’s ashes today and I looked at the photos I took of her after she died. All I can see is beauty and peacefulness, there’s nothing macabre about post-mortem photographs.

        • I found these photographs moving too.The Victorians/Edwardians were not afraid of death as we are.It was all around,the mortality rates were high and life expectancy shorter.I was told, by a guide in Highgate Cemetery, that they would take their picnic baskets to the cemeteries on Sunday regularly in order to sit with their dear departed. Highgate is a Victorian Cemetery in London with gorgeous panoramic views of the city.

  32. With photography of that period being what it was post mortem photos were easier than most studio
    Portraits because the subjects had to remain motionless for long time periods for the picture to turn out.

  33. I don’t think it is a coincidence that most of the photographs shown are of children. Not only was infant and child mortality higher in the 1800′s, there must also have been a concomitant way assuaging the constant need to deal with death.

  34. I agree with an above comment,some are very disturbing,especially the ones with their eyes open,macabre……

  35. Right?!?! Wth was that? CREEPY

  36. I have some photos like these that have been preserved and passed down through the generations in my family. My mother explained that they were taken because family was separated by distance. Modern means of travel had not been invented. To cross the ocean would take a month or more, making it impossible for family to attend the funeral. Sending a photo to distant family helped them come to terms with the loss. The photos were not meant to be displayed; they were usually kept tucked away with the prayer cards. In view of their original purpose, I don’t find these photos to be morbid.

  37. I know it’s weird but some people find it a way to get over a death of a loved one and some people still do it too this day.

  38. This still happens, when our new born son died at 4 hours old the hospital photographer came and took some photos for us, we were also given a disposable camera by them. Those photos are all we have of him and although its now the 2000s those photos are more special to us than anything as we didnt have family snapshots i can see why this was so important.

  39. Fascinating and disturbing. I commend Steve for having the nerve to post something that would evoke the range of reactions that this feature most definitely would elicit. Reminds me of my old newsgroup days (Usenet) … there was a group called something like alt.binaries.pictures.grotesque … I think that was it.

    Well, there was lots of horrible stuff there and I only took in the sights probably once every year or two when the mood struck. Two postings over the years really REALLY will always stick with me.

    One was about a thousand or more, maybe close to 1500, image post of murder scenes, historical stuff but seemingly from some major and official resource, going back to around the turn of the 20th century till maybe the 1970s. I swear I spent the entire evening looking at every one of those shots. The odd and completely unexpected takeaway is that ooking at those shots taught me SO much about murder. I came away with a completely different perspective on the act of murder, what it was and what usually brought it about, etc. then I had before looking at those crime scene shots.

    The other post? Whew. I was about 25 shots. They were basically of a person, looked like a biker kind of guy, he may not of been dead in the first few images but he probably was, it’s been a while. But it was apparent that the photographs were being taken by a couple, again, biker types. And they proceeded to photograph themselves dismembering this dude. And of course, doing things with the body and the pieces of it, etc.

    The whole things was just so obviously real. Not even close to being a possible fake. Forget it. Stunningly disturbing the depravation people are capable of. But that I guess was a lesson as well.

    Anyway. What a way to start off the morning!

    Thanks a lot, Steve! ;-)

  40. Amazing stuff… Spooky but fascinating. it still happens…take GG Allin, for example. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/…/59XOfoDMZkI/s400/W7N86.jpg

    http://ptpimg.me/yqkkis.png

  41. Thanks for sharing. One of your best post ever.

    Heartbreaking, disturbing, beautiful – and very very reel. Today death has become very distant to us; a few generations back people had a much better understanding of life and death I believe.

    I remember from my childhood; in my grandparents house there was this photo of my mothers kid brother who died at two. He laid in his bed, alongside flowers. My family have a picture of my mother from his funeral; she and her parents with his little coffin. My mother died a few months ago, aged 87. On this picture she must be 4-5 years of age. It’s such a …treasure to have picture like this. And I wonder; will anyone still be looking at our digital files 80 years from now?

    Thanks for your post, Steve. It helps us remember what pictures do; they preserve moments and memories – happy ones, and sad.

  42. Thank you for writing the post Steve. We are so engulfed in our own culture that we need to step outside of it and look around. Looking through the viewpoint of others can only make us grow.

    Cheers!

  43. I like these and enjoy looking at really old photographs. I guess I may have a morbid curiosity. My father told me about how death was handled in rural Canada when he was a boy. Embalming and other niceties did not happen then and so the deceased had to be buried quickly. The dead person would be set up in a chair in the parlour or possibly the casket stood up in the corner. People would come by to pay their respects and of course a toast would be raised to the departed. By evenings end quite a few would have too much and the room might grow quite loud. Someone from the casket shop would come by every few hours with a heavy perfume spray to make it at least bearable to stay in the same room. Death in those days was certainly not as neat and tidy as we see now..

  44. Steve, this was a fascinating glimpse into another era. One correction, at one point you refer to “the early 1800′s.” While photography was invented in the early 1800′s, it wasn’t until the last half of the century that it became widespread. These photos remind me of “Wisconsin Death Trip” and “Evidence: NYPD Crime Scene Photographs: 1914-1918.”

  45. Intriguing to say the least. What we have to realize is that in that era, such things as horror films or “ghost stories” didnt exist. These people didn’t sit in front of televisions, movie screens or computers. They simply weren’t exposed to the nonsense wd know today. Taking a picture with a departed loved one was completely normal and no, not weird or creepy. Times then were much simpler. I find this article and the snapshots very interesting. Take it as a history lesson, not a disgusting, weird look into the past. Death was much more abundant then. I appreciate the rare look into the past, thank you.

  46. Very interesting Steve.

    It reminded me of a related (not the same though) service which is provided here in Australia now (and I’m sure in other countries as well) by an organisation called Heartfelt (http://heartfelt.org.au/ourservices). They specialise in providing photographic memories for families that have premature babies and either way (if their child survives or not …. unfortunately not in many cases) they provide services to create memories of their child. It does go beyond just premature children though it is the primary service.

    A photographer here named Gavin Blue created the volunteer based service, where photographers can volunteer their time and expertise.

    Hearing Gavin speak was moving in itself.

    • We have a very similar service here in the US, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (http://nowilaymedowntosleep.org) . Photographers and digital editors volunteer their services to give grieving families beautiful portraits of their children (I believe it is available to those who lose children up to 2 years of age, but I’m not certain of that age limit.) They photograph primarily in hospitals, but are also more than willing to come to funeral homes (many of the photographers say that they prefer the latter due to a wider variety of lighting and staging options). Very few people can understand the incredible importance and value of what they do, but those of us who do understand . . . well, we couldn’t be more grateful.

  47. Fascinating stuff. I won’t forget those images in a hurry, which is good and bad if you know what I mean but that’s the power of the photographs.

  48. Sometimes it was hard to tell who was the deceased person

  49. amazing stuff, a real insight into the past. Only seems bizarre because you never see it now

  50. there are a bit disturbing to us now only because we have moved on so much, we would now never think of taking a picture of a deceased, because that’s who we are now, but back then it was the ‘done thing’ , I think these pictures must have very special for the owners

  51. The comments that have followed the photos are as interesting as the photos themselves!

    Some people are extremely disturbed to look at a child who has been dead for 150 years. Others are just fascinated by something we don’t see in our present society.

    One thing I feel sure of: Today we’re extremely alienated from death — death which is the universal and logical consequence of human mortality.

    When these photos were taken, the infant mortality rate in America was over 20%. _Everybody_ knew a family who had lost a child, or several — or even the mother in childbirth. It was an absolutely normal risk of procreation.

    Average life expectancy didn’t reach 45 until the 1880s! (That’s around the age when we currently exit adolescence in N. America :^) No one was shielded from disease, poor nutrition, and prevailing unhygienic conditions.

    I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe our contemporary reactions to the depiction of death.

  52. Steve,

    Just wanted to chime in. Very strong post. Very ‘thought-provoking’. I like how you handled the introduction, obvious what was coming in the post and you even gave a firm warning. I am not here to judge, we all deal with death in our own way. I don’t think it is right to tell another how to handle this incredibly traumatic experience. If it helps, and you can get through the grief, I could see where a photo would be important for some, I can also see where it could be really tacky.

    The one thing you have provided here, is some great discussion on a tough topic. I would like to see more posts like this. (not necessarily post-mortem photography, but about the history and how we got to where we are today)

  53. Remember seeing this on the film the others,still common today with babies born sleeping not so much adults or animals as I don’t think it’s allowed but something that we see now as “creepy” was a great part of the recovery process as there were no other pictures of the deceased.

    • Kerry. It is allowed today. I have a photo from 1973, one from 1979, and from 2012. Since my son passed away in 2012, I have been involved with an online support group and many, many people take pictures.

  54. So sad, so sad…but thank you for sharing. I’m glad that they are being remembered.

  55. The woman with the decomposed face is not deceased, that photo is a medical photo from the Burns Archive. She has lupus. Posed post-mortem photography for loved ones was rarely if ever done with subjects in an advanced state of decomposition (without an attempt to cover it up).

  56. I find it creepy,but back in those days it was the norm if you could afford it.In this day and age no.I’m sorry I had a niece and nephew take pictures of my mother and posted them on Facebook when I found out about it I tore them a new one and made them delete the pictures.I find it not only creepy but also disrespectful to the deceased and their family. My niece and nephew’s reasoning for the pictures is that they didn’t have any pictures of their Grandmother and wanted something to remember her by. Sad that in this day and age when cameras are everywhere and everything has a camera young people just don’t that the right pictures. I on the other hand always took pictures of everyone at any given time so I invited them over to my home to go through pictures and we were able to find lots of pictures of them with their Grandmother ALIVE….

  57. Hi Steve.

    My inquisitive nature got the better of me. I have to admit, I clicked on the link. A few of the images were VERY disturbing (I’m sorry to rain on the parade). I think it’s best not to post themes of this nature on your blog site. And please, no write-ups on autopsy photos…with all due respect.

  58. I think these pictures are interesting, but I wish the eyes were closed. That was a little creepy. I have to say that my family and I are among the few. I have pictures of my brother in his casket, and I’m glad I have them.

  59. I think that these photos must have been very treasured by the deceased family and they do not offend or disturb me in any way. I wonder how many of the people who have commented have actually seen a dead body? I know from experience (I lost my husband less than 2 years ago) that pictures of a loved one can be very comforting and I completely understand why it was done.

  60. Death is the only thing that is guaranteed to us all. What a shame people find it so frightening. I think the photographs are beautiful, touching and so sad. Thanks for sharing x

  61. I think that one consideration has been omitted from many of the comments and reactions here. These photographs are the product of love, not ghoulishness. I do not find them disturbing, I find them moving and humbling. To call them “creepy” or to say they are inappropriate somehow is to reduce the love and memoriam of these people to nothing more than a peep show.

    Disgust and disquiet says more about the people observing than it does about the subject matter.

    • Beautifully stated, Charles.

    • I agree with Charles to a limited extent. There is a line drawn between the tasteful and the distasteful, with differing degrees of associated shock value. There are tasteful ways to display the diseased corpse. This is done with open casket viewings at funerals all the time. What is considered tasteful can be defined here as the corpse laying supine with eyes closed and with no visible trauma or decomposition. Has anyone attended an open casket funeral any other way? Decomposing bodies with visibly decaying and rotting flesh with eyes wide open crosses over into the realm of “disgust and distaste”. And I frankly don’t care if this was 19th century practice. To me, at what time in history this was commonplace a non-issue.

  62. This made me think strangely, how pointless my desire to be beautiful is. We are only alive for so long. That I spend even one waking moment thinking about my appearance seems so stupid. These people were beautiful and it didn’t make a difference.

  63. I found them really interesting to look at, I understand why they would want to do that,to help keep the memory of their loved one alive,as back then they did not get to have so many photos taken as we have now. However some of the dolls a little creepy. Lol

  64. Very fascinating , its a shame the little girl in the chequered dress with her sister had her shoes put on the wrong feet for the photo , and do people these days have pictures taken of their deceased family ?

  65. My brother died in 1957 at the age of one month. The only pictures we have of him are in his coffin, one with my mother and sisters and myself. Another brother died in 1955 after living only thirteen hours and we have no pictures of him. So even the coffin pictures are precious.

  66. Nice photos but at least half of them are definitely not post mortem photos.

    • From my research these are all post-mortem photos. One thing that was done back then was to pose the people to make them look alive. They even used devices to hold them and prop them up/pose them. They rarely took photos of the deceased in their coffins but usually wanted to pose with them. Very strange indeed and something not seen today. While many still shoot their passed loved ones in their coffins, no one poses them and take a portrait with them.

      • Steve, I’m not trying to start an argument but this is a common misconception. Posing stands were only used for living persons. A lot of the people in these photos are blind or otherwise disabled. Of course the ones in the coffins are dead. There are many people who are experts re post mortem photography. As for taking photos of the dead now – I have photos of my 21 month old daughter in her coffin. I also have photos of other family members. I don’t think a lot of people do it but there are some of us who want the photos to remind us. There are several groups that specialize in photographing stillborn babies with their parents. Please make an effort to join a group and learn more about this custom. We all learn from mistakes. Perpetuating the belief that a dead body can be held in position by a metal stand is just wrong. It would be like trying to nail jello to a wall.

        • Do you have a point of reference to back up what you are saying? Can you give me link that says these are not deceased people? Or is this just your opinion? If you are correct there has to be some point of reference that you can point me to. Thanks. From what I have seen and read, posing stands were indeed used for the deceased which held the back up or body up, arms in place, legs, etc.

          • so I see you choose to perpetuate the ignorance instead of join those who are educated. As you might imagine your blog is being discussed and dissected on many blogs and FB groups.

            • Lol..Ok :) Whatever you say my friend. What is written here is true, not sure what your issue is but in any case, my blog being discussed..anywhere..anytime..is ALWAYS a good thing for me. Thanks!

              • I believe you neglected to approve my post previous to this one. I can assure you that having your blog discussed in a manner that mocks your stupidity is not good for you.

              • Wow, so violent and angry..and why? Because you are angry that I posted a story about historical facts? The only one with stupidity shining through is you. I suggest you do not read this site if you are so bothered by the subject matter. But I am going to guess you are about 180 years old and were around when these were taken…if this is correct then I apologize. You still have not even said what your whole issue is or what you are saying is wrong. You just have an “issue”. But personal attacks here will just get you banned as that is not and never will be acceptable in any way, shape or form.

              • Well I am more underwhelmed now.. at least i thought you had the courage to post honest comments from your viewers even if it went against your opinion. Smells a bit cowardly Steve… And hey, I am sure we can keep this between ourselves.

              • Care to elaborate as to what you are even talking about? Your comment makes no sense whatsoever. TWO comments out of nearly 200 were deleted due to personal attacks and name calling, as I always do with any post. I suggest reading the rules of commenting here. Basically, NO personal attacks or name calling will ever be allowed under ANY circumstance.

          • The eyes of a person are maintained “round” and “bright” by blood pressure. After death, eyes rapidly flatten and lose their brightness. When we prepare a decreased for viewing, the eyes are always closed for this reason (we use a small prosthetic cap to improve the appearance of the closed eye). Unless the bodies in these pictures were photographed within minutes of death, or specially prepared, I doubt that some of these are indeed post mortem.

        • There is a youtube video of a very professional and precious post-mortem photo shoot

          http://youtu.be/Fh2i9ODS17Y

  67. Sad, beautiful, heartbreaking. Especially the children; what did it cost the parents to hold it together long enough to get the photograph. I don’t find these creepy at all, I just really feel for these people who, in raw grief, did what they needed to do to have at least an image of their loved one to keep.

  68. Really interesting. In all honesty I am not frightened to die but I am terrifed of all that surrounds the death of others. I believe its because my family, our society keep death hidden and it shouldnt be. Learning the meaning of that custom made sense to me and I found the pictures deeply touching.

  69. It’s the eyes that have the biggest impact on me. It’s like there’s still something there.

    Creepy, but a damn interesting article. Thanks for posting.

    • I thought that about the eyes, especially the one where the mother is cradling her teenage daughter but if you really look there is just a glimpse of no one there

  70. I found this very interesting, and I did think it was very sad that they were mostly children. It makes me wonder how they died. But I just need to point out that my daughter was stillborn at 42 weeks of pregnancy and was very much my beautiful child. I took many pictures of her and treasure them deeply. So, this does still happen. I would encourage it to anyone else who will go through what I have. They are some of the only things I have left of her. So to me not one of these pictures are creepy.

    Rach

  71. Very touching and upsetting. I can understand why it brought comfort back then. strange sad feeling seeing deceased children tho, but death as never been an easy issue even tho its part of life.

  72. How times have changed, I have two pictures of my beautiful still born son but people have been horrified when I have displayed them in the past.

    • Snap, they are my beautiful twin boys yet I can’t share them with anyone

      • This isn’t freaky or spooky, i look at these photos and see loss and heartbreak. I don’t know how anyone can see these as disturbing, these people are making lasting memories. People who have lost babies around the time of death or during pregnancy still do this to preserve the only memories they would ever get of that child. I know I did and the photo’s of my stillborn son are hung on our walls and displayed on our cabinet, and I even shared them in a photo album on Fb (to a small few, not everyone deserved to meet my son). These photos had me in tears.

      • Hi. Your pictures should be on display . They are a part of your family don, t hide them away because of small minded people. X

  73. As a pro-photographer, I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked to provide a family with a photo of a grandparent that was at an event I worked a week ago, and then they passed. Many times my photo was the last photo of that person and is presented at the funeral.

    I feel honored to have been there to take the last photo that will become a family keepsake of a loved one for generations. I can only imagine what those photographer’s had to endure to get the shot.

  74. I think they are quite beautiful. Death cannot be ignored, it’s the one thing everybody has in common!

  75. I first saw this on the film, The Others many years ago and the people in the film thought they were odd and had to be told that they were pictures of the dead. It was quite creepy but for a long time I didn’t realise that it was common practice in the Victorian age and thought it was some weird part of the film.
    I don’t find it hard to view and I find that people who find these hard to view, aren’t very good at dealing with death. The reason for doing these images makes sense – the lack of money to pay for photographs though it would make sense to save up for one when they’re alive. However, I’m surprised at how “alive” they look, even in death!

  76. Steve, These photos are always so interesting from a social and cultural side. How different we view things now. I’m curious though. Some of these I can’t tell the difference so I wonder how you know the subjects are deceased?

    • These are just samples from the 1800′s that are said to be post-mortem portraits. Research it, there is loads of information everywhere, even Wikipedia. Many of them that were taken back then were made to look like the person was alive..eyes open, etc. When we die our eyes stay open if indeed our eyes were open at the time of death. If we die in our sleep our eyes are closed. But the photos here are all said to be genuine post-mortem photos. Some are very obvious, some are not. But the fact is that NONE of us were here when they were taken so we can only go by what is said/recorded.

  77. I’ve seen a lot of Post Mortem photography blog posts – congratulations on being the first person to use what seem to be ALL genuine Post Mortem photos, and not just pictures of some people trying to hard to sit still!
    I understand the sentiment behind this, and that we are far more sensitised to death now, especially infant mortality – and yet, I can’t see the sense in capturing someone in death, why not spend the money on getting a picture of them when they aren’t mottled and bulgy eyed? :/

  78. I’d like to add that the images shown are the more decent ones. There are others online which show entire families “asleep” unnaturally in bed… it’s clear they were all killed by a tragedy, some still have bruises/cuts/marks on their bodies and faces. They’re a lot more unnerving than these ones!

  79. Have always found this interesting – and what’s most curious to me is how we have managed to move ourselves further and further away from death as we have ‘progressed’. I think it creates a state of denial and fear that’s not helpful when we have to face it – which we all will do – either for ourselves or someone we know/love. I don’t find these creepy – I find them sad – but I’m glad that these people had something they wanted to remember their loved one by. Death is another part of life.

  80. I know a lot of people find the images of children disturbing, but at the time when these pictures were taken, infant mortality was commonplace. People dealt with death more frequently that we do today.

  81. I found it quite strange , but read the title and understood what I was going to see, and found it enlightening, the eyes are strange, no soul in them ( I know they are dead of course) buts dear stand and well done xx

  82. Picture number seven.. The little girl with the flower bonnet on her head – can anyone else see the woman crouched behind the chair? She is in dark clothing with a very pale face??

    • Some one posted a link earlier in the thread of parents hiding in the pictures to keep the children in position, looks like the same thing only the child has died, very creepy as you can see the persons eyes inbetween the chair back

  83. OMG, why did you post this pics Steve? Why?

  84. I too first came across the concept of post mortem photography through the film The Others. I don’t find it creepy at all. Personally I wouldn’t take photographs of a dead loved one because I have plenty of photographs of them alive. But as an earlier commentator said, in the Victorian era there was no such thing as a snapshot, the post mortem photograph may be the only photograph of the deceased other than a wedding picture. Also we are so distanced from death today that we fear it. In the late nineteenth and early twentiety century death was an everyday occurence and most people would have died at home and been laid out at home. It was the exception rather than the norm not to have been familiar with death and dead bodies.

    We all keep mementos of people who have died who were dear to us. Today photographs are ten a penny, then they were special. I can’t see what all the fuss is about.

  85. At first disturbing but as I looked through them I realised that at the time of these photo’s being taken, Death was part of life. Today we shy away from it. It is part of horror movies and part of supernatural episodes to see dead bodies with eyes open, looking directly at you. Their poses were deliberately ‘life-like’ to become a lasting memory for the relatives left behind. It is sweet in one way but culturally ‘we’ have been brought up to shy away from death. When my sister died, my father wanted to go and photograph her in her coffin. He was European so to him, it was what was ‘done’. To me it was abhorrent. When I was training in Midwifery, parents were given pictures of their foetus or baby when things went wrong. I can understand why people want to have a last keepsake to hold onto.

  86. times have changed so much, as have taboos. Today we talk about sex in a matter of fact way yet death is something many find difficult to talk about yet back then it was the other way around. Nowadays you also find women welcoming the camera, whether video or photography, into the birthing suite yet in those days many men were made to stay in a separate room. Things change given time, no doubt things that we find the norm now will be seen as peculiar in 100 or so years time. I’ve seen many postmortem photographs and as strange as they may seem in the present I still think they are a beautiful thing, a moment/snapshot in time that will never be forgotten

  87. This is all very, very emotional. Can I assume that these were children from poorer backgrounds and a photo was a kind of thing the family could afford maybe once? Or would these have been wealthy families? I have to admit, some do not look deceased although some clearly are. Was this done very soon after death? It doesn’t take long for the body to decompose, particularly the eyes – which makes them look alive still.

  88. How very interesting

  89. Great post. Made me think about life and especially how we think about death these days. I believe that people have pushed death out of their lives because they think it doesn’t belong there. But these photos show that people in the past had a different take on it because death was more common and it was very likely that a child would not make it to adulthood. I am glad you posted these. It makes your site better because is starting to explore more facets around photography and stretches our perception on life, death, and the craft we love. Inspiring.

  90. Really really moving. Oddly beautiful in fact.

  91. wow..I think I went through nearly every emotion possible while scrolling through these pictures…..but in the end I cried with sadness for these poor people who lost someone so important to them….I’ll bet these pictures were precious to them in their darkest hours.

  92. Hi Steve, It was interesting to see the pictures you have. I have seen sites before which show after death photos in the Victorian era as I was doing research about that time for a dolls house replica project. I do find it some what comforting that people wanted to have pictures of their loved ones to remember and imagine that those pictures were well and truly treasured. I have seen a friend’ relative’s photograph of her still born child and it took me a long time to realise why they had such a picture on display.. I have read some of the comments above and commend you on bringing history as it was to us. It shouldn’t be kept away from us, we have the choice to look at it, find out more, research if we want to. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront and good on you for making it part of your interest in photography.

  93. I truly do not find them creepy, and I totally understand their purpose, and the concept behind them, *at the time they were taken*. As you rightfully pointed out, most of those people did not have their pictures taken regularly, if ever, so when a family member passed away there was an urgency to have a photograph made of them to be able to remember and cherish their physical selves. As a mother I should be upset to see all those deceased children, yet the dignity and love filling the parents/siblings’ faces are amazing. There was this need to look serene and not a weeping mess in the picture that gives their grief a different dimension.
    I couldn’t say I enjoy looking at them or I would seek them out, or collect books filled with them, but I was not bothered looking at them in this post, and I find them beautifully poignant. So thanks for sharing.

  94. Growing up, attendees at funerals were asked to pose in a group picture around the casket. I think that this was an early way to prove the death of the person and to document those that paid respect at the funeral. The camera used often was a circuit camera, I believe, that panned the lens across a large format sheet of film. The Widelux is a 35mm scale of this technology.

    As far as the death portraits they may have served as proof that the individual passed away.

    Old School Facebook

  95. I do not think it’s strange at all. I took a picture of my x husbands brother in his coffin. And my husband now took a picture of his mom. He also has a lock of her hair!!! Of course we don’t put them in the family photo album. But when ur loved one is gone sometimes you need that just for closure .

  96. Thanks for posting – it’s been really interesting to read the responses as much as viewing the images and as so many have pointed out, this is a snapshot (pun intended) of history and of the way people dealt with their grief at the time. Also alluded to is the fact there is no difference between this and the work of artists who paint or commission to have their deceased loved ones painted. Picasso made such a painting in Le Mort de Casagemas – the death of his friend, Casegemas.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/warholian/5887446518/

    A more modern artist to reflect upon alongside these photographs is Ron Mueck. Model maker extraordinaire, his version of Dead Dad is quite special. It is a miniature (half-size), naked version of his father, post-mortem. Just the fact Mueck needed to closely observe his father in an unconventional way in order to make this work is significant in itself. You could view this as his means to manage his own grief by channelling through his art. I saw the work for myself around 1998 in London and found it very moving and not at all macabre.

    http://www.hughjohnson.co.uk/blog/2012/06/ron-mueck/

  97. Such sadness radiates from these photos. Very interesting though as to the lengths family would go to, to prpreserve the memory of a loved one, although I find it quite eerie looking at these photos, perhaps if I lived in this era I would also contemplate having a photo with a deceased person to remember them.

  98. The very last photo was the most beautiful. I think these photos are stunning and I would love to have one of my family members take a beautiful photo of me after I pass away. I am very much in to the death industry and wish people would be more open to accepting their own death and not being so afraid of doing something like this.

  99. Very disturbing for me!

  100. These images are not so different from images I have see of modern families posing with an open casket at a funeral, with or without the deceased partially visible. While not usually kept on display, many families have such photos stored.

    I do not claim to be a “pro” photographer, but I am the patrol cop with a camera at night for two districts in a very large city in the USA. Most of my human subjects are alive, my typical “client” being a battered woman. To say the least, this requires a delicate balance of empathy and professional detachment!

    Either the CSU/ID units, or Vehicular Crimes units, handle the death scenes that require major investigation, leaving me with suicides, overdoses, and the natural deaths with no recent medical history, which means I frequently work with family members nearby. (On a busy night, however, I must be prepared to be the only photographer available for a major death scene.)

    It does not surprise me that many families, in the time before amateur film/digital photography was common, would want images of their recently-passed loved one. I have witnessed people using a mobile phone to capture a post-mortem image. I doubt these are shared on social media, instead being kept private, within the family.

    I have seen some post-mortem images, similar to the ones Steve has posted, in history and biography books. A similar practice was the making of death masks, which are three-dimensional impressions of a deceased person’s face; this continued well into the Twentieth Century.

  101. Very interseting indeed Thankyou for joking me an insite to many yes ago

  102. Wow – Image 9 really spoke to me. I don’t know why it stood out more then the others, but It jumped off the page at me! The little girl appears to be staring into my soul! Also I loved no.16. The two children have slight ghosting around, I am guessing due to long exposure that was required back in those days, and the stillness of the main subject. its like role reversal of the paranormal world, It seems to me that would be how they see us!

  103. Thankyou for showing these amazing pics that was life and Death back then

  104. These are so beautiful. Loved ones capturing one last moment in time….

  105. My partner died in 2010, and I remember seeing his brother taking photographs of him in his coffin. At the time I was angry that he would need to do that, That he should remember him alive. I will always wonder why he did that.

  106. Interesting! Thanks for this article, I think it strange how some people get so shocked with things human regularly did in the past history. Anyone ever been to a torture machine museum for example?
    I understand why these photo were made at the time, but the sheer sadness and awkwardness in these poses made me wonder if you would want to even look at the picture at a later date. One glance at the photo and all the sad memories/ feelings of the shoot would surely come flooding back.

  107. Grim Reaper in photo #5?

  108. I have pictures like these myself of my twin boys who past away. I totally understand why photos like this are so important to loved ones who are left behind, i only wish I had more of them. Especially if there were no snap shot photos in the 1800′s it would be money i would have spent… especially of the children. They may be disturbing to some and thats ok, until you experience a loss like this it is very hard to understand. Love and light to you all, and hold your loved ones close every chance you get xxx

  109. I found them loving, beautiful and of course sad too, especially the babies and children gone so early. I too do not fear death, it is natural, it happens, it is life. Thank you for sharing.

  110. I’m going to have nightmares–I swear that big doll sitting to the right of that poor little girl looked like it was alive! Way too Disturbing!

  111. wow!. me and my wife were watching The Others just last night, were they touch this exact subject and we talked about it. Still surprising

  112. People ask why history is important, this was part of our history when photography first came out. This was the only chance for families to get a physical memory of their loved one. Even more so the babies cause so many died of crib death or simple illnesses like the flu. The photos were very expensive more than most people could afford so the only time a family was able to afford a actual photo was usually in death, to wealthy families. It’s no different when people have a viewing and spend lots of money for a photographer to take photos of a whole funeral. It was the same concept because it was the only picture the family would ever have of the person who died, but it would almost be like buying a car in today’s standards. I wouldn’t call this art as much as looking at families who just wanted to capture a memory of a loved one.

  113. We took pictures of my grandson in his coffin. We knew he would not live long and videotaped the hour and 45 minutes he lived. The hospital also took photos. But he looked so beautiful and peaceful at his funeral, and we knew they would be the only pictures we had of him, we cherish every one! In the past, when cameras were expensive, a post-mortem photo might be the only one a family had of their loved one. I don’t see how this could be seen as “creepy”. It ‘a not a horror picture, it’s a memory of someone loved!

  114. I’m sad. Too many children. I know it was the way, but damn.

  115. Our 5-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident in 2003. When I was released from the hospital my husband and I went to the funeral home where her body was kept, in order to sign the papers for cremation. I sat with her for an hour or so, talking to her, stroking her hair, and just being with her physical body one last time. To this day I regret that it didn’t occur to me to take a picture of her that day. I know it may seem creepy to some (it probably would have seemed so to me before this happened) but having been through a loss like this, I now think it’s a beautiful thing to do if the family wants it.

  116. I didnt read through all the comments but,

    in most of what Ive read before about the reason Postmortem Photography was especially important with Children and Babies was because Most of these families probably didnt have money for the family photos most of us have the luxury of taking with our lil ones today.
    Sure its creepy or weird or Whatever, but this was the normal for people in that era..The last maybe only remembrance of someone they may have lost suddenly. Its not like these children are being photographer in a park or next to a dollhouse etc.. Its a beautiful way to show “They were at peace”.

    Keep in mind this is also the same era where Our common day “Living Rooms” were originally named because people used to keep there dead in there homes for at least a week as a way of Family and friends to pay there last respects.

    Read up on your history! Its quite fascinating!

    ~Angel

  117. Thanks for sharing this post.. Our family still practice post-mortem photography. There are pictures of all dearly departed loved ones either in their coffin, or at the moment of death in their beds or wherever. We have an album where we keep the pictures, separate to the photos we have of our loved ones when they were alive. It’s just a way to remember them, looking at peace. Hard to say who or why it was started and how it carried on through the generations, but it’s also very interesting to read some of the comments from people who are disturbed by this, whether by photos of children or animals etc. I’ve grown up seeing pictures like this all my life, and I find nothing about it disturbing at all. I guess it’s a matter of what we’ve been programmed to think about such things. For the record, I also work in death-care services, so I see decedents all the time. It’s a daily thing for me these days. There’s still a very personal aspect when it’s someone you know, but definitely not something to fear.

  118. I wouldn’t want to look at any of them again; but I do understand the reason why they were taken. Grew up in a new religious movement; it was the tradition in that religion if a beloved pet died, to surround their body with beautiful flowers and incense, and wait a period of time before burying them; some also took a photo of the animal surrounded by flowers, to remember them .While to me a photo after death wasn’t something I ever wanted, it was taken as a gesture of love and respect. So that was similar in a way to the Victorian attitude shown here. The photos were obviously taken out of respect and love.
    The saddest photo was the two children near maybe their dead mother on the couch. And the heartbreak of mothers with their dead babies and young children.

  119. I think this is amazing. I don’t understand why some people are so upset about the dog. I think its lovely to think it probably cost the family alot of money back then and it was a very precious thing to do and they loved there dog so much that they had this done. I completely understand why people had these photo’s taken.

  120. its cool, and can be accepted. my family has tradition to make post-mortem photography.

  121. These crossed a line that I do not think needed to be crossed,photographs of dead kids are not what I expect on a site like this.
    I get enough real time visions of this thanks to global news coverage of world events.
    Each to their own.

    • As I told the one other person who complained..if you do not want to see it then why did you look? No one forces you to look or read. If it is a subject you are not comfortable with, do not read or look. But this is a part of the history of photography and if it belongs anywhere, it belongs on these pages. Death is normal..it is a part of life for all of us. This just shows a tradition from the past that would be frowned upon today by many and really shows just how much we have changed as a society.

  122. Not worth freaking out about, and very common even today. I have some beautiful photographs of my daughter who was stillborn. The hospital take them as standard. There are some of her with flowers, some being held by us, some in her hospital crib. This was in 2000.

  123. Thanks for taking time to reply Steve, your defensiveness is a little uncalled for though. Had your article mentioned the matter of dead kids I wouldn’t have looked as you put it.
    As I said, each to their own and maybe we have changed as a society due to the amount of times we have responded to global catastrophes and had to load kids in bags.
    Enjoy your pictures mate, I will not be returning again.

    • Your “cross the line” comment was what I was responding to. As I said, you did not have to read it but chose to. You could have clicked off after the 1st image, but you did not. So you continued to look and then decide to inform me that I crossed the line. That would be like me clicking on a story about something I was sensitive to..reading it..viewing images…and then blaming the website for what I saw.

      Unfortunately the mortality rate of Children back in those times was very very high. Another part of our history and how we have developed since. We now have modern medicine and our kids today do not usually die of disease and sickness at early ages.

      So these photos represent what was happening at that time.

      My point is, do not blame me for looking at something you may be sensitive to. You chose to look and keep looking. I find nothing at all wrong with this post. I fully understand not everyone will be comfortable viewing these but do not blame me if you are not. Just do not look.

      I force no one to read or look at the site or my content and I always suggest (and have for years) that if you do not like what you see on my pages then stay away. Easy fix.

      Steve

  124. Thanks for sharing old technology comparison with new updated technology i really like it .

    • To me the pictures of the obviously deceased with relatives is more comprehensible – a portrait of grief. Less understandable/easy to accept/just plain creepy are those portraying corpses in life-immitating poses as if they are not what they are – dead. Hard to imagine a relative finding these in any way comforting or appealing.

  125. Some things in history are better left in history. This is one of them. Just my opinion but each to their own.

  126. a common practice in my family, as well. has been for decades. fascinating. i admit the first image was disturbing with so much apparent decomp. must be a story there. good article. thank you!

  127. Very interesting indeed, I found it hard also to say which one was the descesed in some pictures. I learned something new and rather interesting, Thank you

  128. I don’t think these pictures are scary at all, its just a way of them remembering them before their bodies decomposed. My dad passed away when I was 9 (i’m 20 now) and my family members were taking pictures of him in his coffin with his favorite suit on. It’s just a way of remembering them when they still look alive and mostly normal, like they’re just sleeping.
    My dad was Greek and was buried in London, and here in London I get a lot of people asking me to take photos at funerals, from all different cultures, backgrounds and ages! Even hospitals do them when a mother has a stillborn; its they way the photo captures the sadness and the happiness at the same time. Beautiful and intriguing photos Steve and I’m glad you’ve shared and educated others! After all this is history!

  129. I found this article fasincating, personally some of the pictures were quite tastefully done and I can understand that if photography was expensive why they would want a last momento of their loved one, its not so uncommon today, many people have photographs of a still born (respectful condolences to those that have experienced this) some of the images I found to be quite emotional and respectful, however some of the images were a little uneasy on the eye, tastefully done i don’t see a problem with it to be honest! Thanks for sharing x

  130. We in the West have a very disturbed view of death. It is a natural step in the dance of life. In every picture there are bodies…some performing a difference sequence in the dance. Remember that whether you are turning, jumping, reeling or swaying, the music plays on. These pictures are an expression of love and were so important to someone in time (who will also now be dead)…the dance continues…

  131. tHIS IS VERY UNDERSTANDABLE BACK THEN AND EVEN NOW ITS NOT GROSE OR WRONG TO WANT SOMETHING LIKE A PHOTO OF YOUR LOVED ONE WHEN MY BROTHERS BOY WAS MURDERED THEY TOOK PICTURES IN HIS COFFIN TO BE REMEMBERED AND WHEN MY DAD PASSED AWAY IN jULY OF 2011 i TOOK A PICTURE OF HIM BEFORE THEY TOOK HIM TO THE MORGE SO ITS ALL UP TO THE PERSON WERE NOT SICK FOR DOING THIS WERE JUST GONNA MISS THAT PERSON SO MUCH WE CAN LOOK BACK AND TALK TO THAT PICTURE IF WE WANT TO ITS OUR CHOISE TY

  132. Steve, just a quick point that no one seems to have taken onboard; when these photographs were being taken , it was in an age where it was a completely `new` concept to take `any` photograph, and the people practising this new technology weren`t doing it for the good of grieving families, only to `line their own pockets`…………………This requires a sophisticated ploy to change attitudes to how we remember, and when all`s said and done, a `photograph` is just a shorthand way of making this expression. Rest assured…………the `Pro` photographers of the day needed to stay ahead in the game, and the one way of doing this was to invent a new `need` which as you rightly say was extremely costly for those concerned…………Just thought I`d point this out…………By the By…..an excellent use of Facebook………..which in its own way is doing pretty much the same marketing job as those early photographers.: creating a `need`.
    Keep up the good work.

  133. soooo creepy o.O

  134. I don’t think this illustrates that norms and feelings about dead relatives has changed since then.

    I think those people felt just as strongly as we do. I think those people would have given anything not to have photos of their deceased.

    But in most cases that was the last chance to have the one and only photo they would ever have of their loved ones. And so with broken hearts they had the picture taken, so they could remember. The only photographic link they would ever possess. Which to us and I’m sure to them as well makes it all the more painful.

  135. The Victorians believed that the photo was a snapshot of the soul and the reason why hardcore religious people at the time refused to ever have their picture taken ,so this makes perfect sense to take a photo of the dead they believed it kept them alive and in a way it did

  136. good lord they don’t have facebook or twitter yet back then… phew….

    I was holding my breath seeing those pics..
    impressive to see how they appreciate photographs

  137. Some of those photos are actually very beautiful… I mean artistically interesting. (For example, the eleventh has a very romantic.style.)

  138. I feel like I had a nightmare…. it’s sick.

  139. I don’t find it weird. People want to remember a child, back then I am sure pics weren’t taken everyday like they are now. This very well could be the only pic these people had of the child.

  140. These photos of children and babies are just heartbreaking, I studied this subject myself and as part of a photography project we dressed in Victorian clothes and took death shots (using live models with closed eyes) its sad that the last memory of their appearance is one of them in death, but that’s just how it was back then. Were all so lucky to have the chance to capture so much more

  141. Morbid and perverse is how I feel about these photos. Dead children, c’mon Steve.

    • Completely disagree. The only problem here is in the minds of those people upset by these pictures.

      Just pause and have a think about why these people had a photographer come to them and take a picture of their lost child. Think about their motivation and consider the time that they lived in.

      There is nothing perverse about it at all. It is tragic, very sad, but very understandable and completely correct and respectful. This is what death looks like. Get over it.

      And it is worth noting that this is still practised today. Part of the therapy of dealing with infant mortality is that parents are given the chance to have photographs of their lost child for them to keep and remember them by. And many people choose to do so.

      • Rufus, Steve asked how we feel about the photos. I was stating my opinion, nothing more.
        I have seen enough death in the military and I will never “get over it”.

  142. Personally, I am very glad that Steve posted this.

    As per an earlier comment, we have to understand the context behind these pictures. The motivation to post them was driven by love. A desire to record the appearance of a loved and lost child before it becomes lost in troubled memory. This was long before photography had found its way into the hands of every person. And it was more accurate than having an artist paint a picture.

    People who are troubled by this, shouldn’t be. If these pictures make them pause and reconsider the inevitability of death, then this is a good thing.

    I think those that have a problem with this, should pause and have a think about things. These are images motivated by loss and love. Lets not forget that.

  143. I didn’t find these photographs disturbing at all. I think it is perfectly natural that you’d want to have pictures and permanent images of your loved ones, especially if you already don’t have one and that loved one passes away.
    Look – this is totally up to your self, nobody in these photographs were mocking around or disrespecting the deseased. The expressions on the faces on the living says a million things.
    If people get offended looking at these images it’s quite simple really – well just don’t look!!

  144. Images of dead people are a very ancient form of portraiture. So many paintings and statues of dead bodies have come to us from ancient times, to which we never give a second thought! Do we even need to mention the most famous of them all…?

    Here it’s different though because you have normal people taking advantage of the “new” medium of photography to preserve the memory of loved ones, when probably they never had any other picture of them (which explains why so many of children).

  145. Some of these pictures, I’m having a hard time seeing which one of the individuals that has passed away. I know from my parents that the old photos of their parents time… they used to draw real looking eyes on the photo’s (some shots someone would accidently blink, it’s not like they could afford to take several photo shots) or color in blush for the cheeks, etc. I don’t believe all of them are post mortem, I think they might look like it because of the techniques they used back then to correct the photos. Some of the photo’s I definitely see it though and glad for the technology and vaccines of today’s times. I couldn’t imagine the loss they felt.

  146. I have been giving this more though. Steve, I thank you for all of your great work and reviews but this is not your best. Not only has the post turned me off your site it is all of the other critics supporting this particular topic.
    I shall not be returning.

  147. Hi Steve,
    even my last born was just sitting on my lap with his eight months and his wonderful laughter (you know how sweet they can be) and after he went to bed I got a solid punch in my stomach by watching those pics (even I saw dead kid in real too), I have to thank you for your post. Your words in the beginning that explained in a sensitive way what those captures meant to the people, made this post to definitely one of best!
    Cheers
    Oliver

  148. Steve,

    The “snapshot” wasn’t invented until the 1880s with the Eastman-Kodak camera. So yes, these people actually had to hire out photographers until that decade.

    Moreover, some of these “postmortem” photos are actually pre-mortem. The kid was very sick, but not yet dead.

    Tim

  149. Steve,

    The “snapshot” wasn’t invented until the 1880s with the Eastman-Kokak camera. So yes, until that decade, people had to hire out photographers. Moreover, some of these photos are not postmortem, but pre-mortem. The kid was very sick, but not yet dead.

    Tim

  150. Hi Steve,

    I see no reason for any overheated reaction on this subject.
    Nice historical post. Things were different then.
    Remember the beloved, still the same.

  151. I think those all photographys show the love and care of parents. We can’t judge, At now we are o ley witnes. Thank’s for the courage to show us part of the our history.

  152. Did anyone discuss the fifth photograph yet? Because that one really scared me, with what seems to be a black-clad, crouching person behind the “chair”. Is it the mother, hiding? Of course, the first thing that comes to my mind is a ghost.
    Martin

  153. Steve, just wanted to put a second comment on this post after reading all of the negative reactions: this is an amazing historical documentary of photography that I didn’t knew it existed. I thank you greatly for sharing this!

  154. Plot Twist: The ‘ dead’ people lying down are actually alive,while the people ‘alive’ standing or sitting are the dead ones.

  155. Steve, I find these pictures in a strange way rather beautiful and moving, especially the last one. I cannot understand why people find them creepy or strange. I say thank you for showing them to me.

  156. Thank you for sharing this. It was a bit spooky to see those photos but in these days watching corpses lying on streets on the news is no different. The difference I noticed was the expression in the eyes of family who were being photographed alongside, they look so empty, and alone. Just look at the eyes. I do not know if I could pose for a photo for a family member in that way but yet when my family are all alive, happy and together I shun the camera because I have a do not have straight teeth? I think I will stand in front of the camera more often, just incase xx

  157. Ps I left my comment at 23.54pm on 7/01/14 not 4.53pm as stated.

  158. I think they are very poignant. It could be their way of saying goodbye. You are right, Steve, that people still take postmortem photographs. My friend photographed her deceased father, dog and cat last year. It’s not how I want to remember my loved ones, however.

  159. I find these pictures to be very interesting!! Of course if a family took pictures of thier deceased fam. Member these days I would find that to be extremely not normal. I can appreciate the value these photos have or still have for these families. Pictures werent so easy to come by in the past so they may not have haf many pictures to remember their loved ones by. So they dressed them up to resemble some kind normalcy as.well as they could.
    As for the last pic i think that girl is alive. Her pupils are constricted and there was obviously a flash used.

  160. My mothers people are from the south and they took pictures of deceased loved ones. They practiced an old ritual called sitting up with the dead, they stayed with the dead all night as they lay in the coffin,they covered all the mirrors and stopped all clocks, it was a very old custom. I dont find it creepy or strange it was just what they did. These are pictures of remembrance and love. These pictures were for the living to hold onto.

  161. Indeed, as mentioned in an earlier post, there is a comprehensive, well written book called “Wisconsin Death Trip”, published back in 1973, which addresses this phenomenon and a lot of related issues of the last part of the 19th Century in Wisconsin. I remember my college history professor handing me a copy and I read it extensively before returning it to him. It is widely available for sale used.

    In several photos (including the last one) it appears as though the deceased’s eyes are open. In some cases, the photographer has added eyes to the image, either by having them painted on the eyelids of the subject or adding them manually into the image later at the request of the family.

  162. Steve said blah blah blah Do Not Look…and looked ;-(

  163. I’m not sure they’re all post mortem, especially the fifth one. There are a lot of baby pictures from that era with the mother shrouded in the background, and the purpose of that was to keep a LIVING child still for the camera. http://www.pinterest.com/awaterloosunset/o-mother-where-art-thou-the-shrouded-adult-in-port/

  164. This is pretty dark…

  165. Very interesting. We should avoid judging things through the value of our era. As mentioned above, it was a quite normal thing back then. Value changes.

  166. Wow. That was a sweet experience. Many of those pictures made me see the love their family had for the one they lost. There was so much done to display a sense of everyday life, which would be how they wanted to remember them. The one with my mother holding her baby…it looks as though she had just finished rocking it to sleep. I think these families put much thought into the they way they wanted to remember them. All of these photos where done out of love. That is sweetly evident.

  167. This is actually still in practice for some cultures as well as in the states. I lost my last child she was a still birth and the hospital took photos of her for me. I think it helps the families with their grieving process. Perhaps it helps them cope with the loss. We should not be so quick to judge other people unless we have experienced it ourselves. Thank you for sharing your photos. I wish I knew the story behind each photo

    • Well said, I totally agree. Life is so different now to what it was then, but death is still the same. Yes the stories behind each photograph would be fascinating!

  168. Nice post!
    It reminds me a picture of my great aunt, she pased away at the age of 8, and I still have her picture (she has “sleeping in the bed”). My Gran mother keep it and is as you said a part of our history that we should protect.

  169. I found it disturbing and endearing at the same time. Especially those photos wherein babies were the subject, the photographer (or whoever it was) decided to capture that moment where the children were just in a state of slumber.. disturbing coz… yeah! dead people are included in the photo. I had creepy feeling on the last photo where the kid’s eyes were forced open to give expression.

  170. Absolutely fascinating! We may think it ghoulish today but in those days they may not have any other photographs at all. We are lucky that we have photographs of people whilst they are alive, they were not always this lucky, we really do take photographs for granted. I can fully understand why they did this. Thank you for posting!

  171. Yes, Emmy.

    ESPECIALLY THE DOG.

    What’s with the high horse? To each their own, indeed. I freely admit I find the sight of a dead pet far more heart-wrenching than the sight of a dead human of any age or stage. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, so please stop insinuating that there is. We all process grief differently, and we all have our own feelings and opinions on the matter.

  172. Born Once, Live Once, Die Once Thats LIFE

    Thanks for posting Steve, Great stuff!

  173. Those photos are so powerful and weirdly beautiful. I completely understand the love behind them. Thank you for sharing them.

  174. Amazing and at the same time Disturbing !!! x.X !!! xD !!!

  175. I really enjoyed the pictures, I wish we as a people were more open to taking pictures of our love ones after they die. I wanted to take a picture of my grandfather 14 years ago and we met with all kind a crap most of it came from the employees at the funeral home, and not my family. Needless to say I didn’t get the pictures but I’ve always wished I had.

  176. I remember taking a photo of a beloved 20 year old cat that I had to have put to sleep- just to remember her by. When I looked at the photo, it seemed as if there was a strange silvery glitter all over the cat’s coat. I don’t to this day know what caused it. Weird.

    I can totally understand the sentiment behind these photos.

  177. It is not so strange. When i was a midwife we took photographs of stillborn children their parents and the professional company that toured maternity units to take the baby photos included babies that had died. Its the photos of the older children and adults that is poignant but this maybe the only photo that was ever taken.

  178. Great post.
    An eye opener.

    I see nothing creepy or weird.
    I only see humanity and am touched by the sadness of losing loved ones.

  179. Intriguing and totally disturbing at the same time … Almost hard to believe the lack of spirit in the departed is so strongly evident in the images.

  180. I found nothing weird or disturbing about any of the photos. It was simply a way to capture the person’s image for memories sake. Some folks just don’t know how to cope with the unusual. Get over it folks.

  181. Thank you for this wonderful post, I am a classically trained portrait Artist who works in an “Old Master’s” technique. A few years ago I began a series of paintings depicting the faces of corpses with bodies dressed in formal wear and in mid motion; a crooner holding a cigarette and tumbler of scotch here, a slightly cross eyed woman with a tiara and adjusting here fur stole there. They were all black and white and painted on wood to evoke the coffins from which these undead socialites have strayed. The thing of it was, I gave no indication that these were dead people, just folks dressed up in classy outfits with something rather peculiar about their facial expressions. The title of the show was: “The Life of the Party”. Very few got it right away, and those that did only did so because the recognized a particular face from the reference photo I had employed to paint the piece, such pictures being difficult to come by at the time.
    Thank you again for your immensely entertaining post.

    Cordially,
    Michael Sage.

  182. Cultures change and adapt to the times. Post mortem photography had it’s place as did “death masks”. I found the photos sad but not disturbing. Live long enough and you will see a lot of loved ones come and go. What is disturbing are just a handful of the comments that have been posted here. I mean posting “hahahahahaha” is childish at best.

  183. This is the best Steve’s post. I like it much better than his equipment reviews. I’m gonna throw up now.

  184. Wow. I think the faces of the relatives are incredibly poignant, especially No 14. So many children a sad reminder of how lucky we are that infant mortality is nothing like it was back then. Only time i had seen post mort photography was in the Nicole Kidman film “The Others”
    As a former nurse i was used to dealing with death and wish it was something society was more open about – then we might be able to have a useful debate about euthanasia here in the uk….

  185. The chills or were those goose bumps finally faded away!

  186. The act/art of capturing a moment, any moment! through photography is fascinating,life is live,and very real all the time especially at that time,hard copys of photographs are being lost. and I think censorship in general is o.k.in the right way but the people who censor in order to try and control people disturbs me more than ‘any’ image of life,after all there is no life without death,and nothing that was real ever dies,so what is life? :-)

  187. a friend posted this at face book. his friends thought it was morbid to photograph the deceased. I don’t. on the other hand, I think open casket funerals are morbid.

  188. ok, so i didnt sit here and read every comment, and my apologies if anyone else has pointed this out…but there is a whole series of books with post mortem pictures. its called Sleeping Beauty. there are 3 of them and theres a few others too. theres also a book by the same guy, a doctor by the way, called Shooting Soldiers. its all pictures of dead and wounded Civil War soldiers. They are all on the pricey side…in the hundreds to purchase. i got 1 as a gift. I think its haunting and beautiful..a testament to love. There are some extremely rude and ignorant comments on here. But then most fear stems from ignorance. Im new to the website, but i loved it Steve. Go you.

  189. I don’t think the dog should have even been here but, it was, so its fine, however, since I saw these pictures it is hard to decide how I feel. I am sad for the families that lost so very many little ones in the past days from all the horrible things that kids got then, but in a sense I feel and know that they went to Heaven to be with God and felt no more pain or suffering. I can’t even imagine the parents on how they felt being in a death picture with their child but I am sure they knew in their heart they were in a great place and in God’s loving arms!

    June

  190. I have a photo that I would like to share for you to post. I have no idea who the people are or where it was made, but appears to be very late 1800 or very early 1900. It is a family portrait with father and three children including an infant. The deceased mother is in a coffin – front and center of the family portrait.

  191. Enjoyed looking at the photos. I find them interesting and would in this day consider them art not morbid.

    • I agree with you. I also don’t see anything morbid about them. I find them to be fascinating. I really felt sorry for that young man, looking down at his dead wife. The resf of the photos are, for the most part, void of emotion. What I do find a bit odd is the painting of the eyes. Death is a natural occurrence and should be viewed as such. JMHO

  192. I agree. These are all art, neither morbid nor absurd. Creepy but emotional. It portrays the melancholy of the family members in loosing someone you loved and the thought of they will not be able to touch them again.

  193. I agree with you. We should respect the culture in that time. Moreover, this is not morbid, this is an art, a kind of photography.

    • I agree entirely, Some of these pictures are really beautiful. The last one in particular.
      I lost my husband 5 yrs ago and luckily I have many pictures of him whilst he was alive, but these people had non so I can totally understand them wanting something to remember their loved ones.

  194. Please i am looking for the original source on the second photo the two boys sister and baby , I have i think this family portrait BEFORE the post mort. or the child . i would love to find the family .

  195. Well Steve,

    Most of these remind me of the “Olde Family Burying Ground” in southeastern Missouri where as a child of N.Y. I was drug to as a boy. Some of the stones with photos under glass , in particular those of children, were post mortem. Posed with flowers or dolls. One of a Union Soldier, dead from camp fever, perhaps photographed by a sutler.

    Definately creepy for my first visit at six, but oddly comforting as the years past, for it gave me a connection in a very different way to a family long gone. Good work for putting these up, certainly made some think, especially those never exposed so to speak to this form of photography.

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