victorian post mortem photography

Post Mortem Photographs

Victorian Post Mortem Photography 1837-1901

Post Mortem family photos and portraits 

Often a family would not have any group photos and after a family member had died they only have one last chance of a photograph together.

After they had passed away they would be dressed up and sometimes having eyes painted on their eyelids.

Sadly in this era child mortality was very high and a post mortem Photography would be the only way to have a photo of their child.

Imagine how difficult it must have been to pose with a dead loved one. At the time, the photography process was slow and you could not move while the photo was being taken.

In this photo you can see the dead girl is more in focus than her parents, as they moved while the photograph was being taken.

Sometimes, photographers would try to make it appear like the dead person was sleeping.

Notice the odd position of the curtain behind the boy? It’s likely there was someone behind it holding the boy’s head up.

See anything strange about the background? This girl is sitting on someone’s lap. The person held her in place while the photo was taken.

In this photograph, the girl standing in the middle is the deceased. The photographer attempted to make her look more alive by drawing on her pupils.

Theres just something about their eyes . I got goosebumps while making this .

Post-mortem photography

Post-motem photography, also known as mourning portrait, is the act of photographing the recently deceased. These pictures were considered normal in America and Europe in  the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The most known ones are from the Victorian Era. They are seen as creepy and unsettling nowadays, but in that time, it was quite common. 

The death photographs were meant to serve as momentos of the deceased loved one, and because of that, some photographers tried to make their subjects look alive. They usually put the corpses posing with the activities they used to do a lot when alive: sewing, reading, playing an instrument, etc. If the eyes of the corpses were already closed, the photographers usually framed the subjects as if they were sleeping, or even draw on the corpse’s pupils. 

They were taken usually recently after the death of the loved one, because of the signs of rigor mortis, which is a chemical change in the muscles, causing hardening and darkening.


Van Alstyne Cemetery. Van Alstyne, Texas. Fall 2016.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Cemeteries around Texas. A LOT of time. I’ve occasionally seen pictures of the deceased included on the headstone, but this is the first actual Post Mortem baby photograph that I’ve come across. 

By the late 1800′s photography was becoming more and more common and popular, however it was still enough of a luxury that most individual families didn’t own their own camera. For this reason, there were occasions when someone would die before there was a convenient opportunity to have them photographed. This was particularly true of children. 

When this happened, families found themselves with no photographs to remember the departed by… Their solution to this problem was to have the deceased person photographed before burial. In this instance, poor little James Lucas passed away when just over a year old in 1898. The parents had his photo taken and transferred to a china/ceramic disk afixed to the front of the headstone. 

About Victorian post-mortem photography.

It wasn’t nearly as prevalent as people seem to think, and it was mostly used to photograph infants and small children who died before they could get a photo taken (which is still the case today.  Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is a charity that sends professional photographers to photograph infants who are stillborn or who die shortly after birth).   A lot of the “post-mortem” photos swirling around on the internet are very much pre-mortem.

If the subject of a photo has muscle tone and their eyes are focused, it means they’re alive.  

Basically, if they look alive, it probably means that they’re alive.  Sometimes pictures would be doctored to put separated families together, and their hands and limbs can overlap in awkward ways.  Props were used to help keep people 100% still for the 5-10 minutes it could take for a photograph to develop, not to hold dead bodies up.

anonymous asked:

Your Victorian photography post reminded me - theres a really good book on Victorian post-mortem photography called Beyond The Dark Veil, its filled with macabre pictures and info of the people in the pictures. I recommend it to anyone interested 💕

Oh, that sounds pretty cool. Thanks for sharing!