Memento Mori: Victorian Death Photos

7 years, 1 month ago
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Death…it is an unavoidable part of life. Yet in modern human culture it’s a taboo subject, discussed only when necessary, and even then usually only in hushed whispers. Americans in particular are devoted to perpetuating the fantasy that you can stay young forever and live indefinitely, the narrative of eternal life scribed by theologians, who now pass the torch to transhumanist futurists and Big Pharma.

In the Victorian era, however, people embraced the reality of death, a fact which is perhaps unsurprising considering that the average life span was only around 40 years.

With the advent of photography, the Victorians were presented with an opportunity to immortalize the deceased in a way that was previously impossible. But because of the incredibly high cost of photography at the time, post-mortem photographs were, in many cases, the only photograph a family retained of the deceased. In the earliest forms of post-mortem photography, the dead were meticulously posed and made to look as if they were still alive. Children were posed in their beds or even alongside their families. Photographer-morticians employed special props and carefully arranged the corpses to stand upright for the families to pose with, leaving behind a treasure trove of gloriously macabre family portraits.

Adding even more to the eeriness was the ironic fact that in the early years of photography cameras processed pictures slower, so the living subjects in these photographs often appear slightly blurred while the dead subjects– who were motionless – appear with crystal clarity. Which is more defined, the living or the dead? The postmortem photographs were more common than any other kind of photograph in the Victorian era, especially in the U.S.

The term memento mori actually predates the Victorian era by centuries. The Latin translation of the term is, simply, “remember you must die.” It’s a philosophical term that reminds us of our transience on Earth, and serves as a warning to prepare ourselves for whatever other realm awaits us. Below are some creepy post-mortem photographs from the Victorian era. In the first photo, you can actually see the photographers assistant in the shadows holding up the coffin for the picture!

If you look closely at the photo below you can also see a base behind the deceased that was used to help prop them up.

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  • Amber

    some of them you cannot tell which is which…creepy

  • Cherryfest

    Stands were not used for post mortem photographs. They were used for living people ONLY as exposure times were so long

    • DarkNLovely

      I read that they were used for both.

    • Nettie Potts

      Yes, they WERE used for post-mortem photographs. Notice the other guy doesn’t have one.

      • Sara

        Yes he does. Both men in the last photograph are being propped up. The one on the left has a wooden posing stand, but both are posing stands.

  • Brittanie Sidebottom

    Because photography became cheaper, so more families could afford to take pics with their loved ones while they were still alive. They still do it today, but it’s mainly for stillborn babies (Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is the name of a photography company a friend of mine used when her daughter was stillborn. They specialize in photos like these).

  • Clarence Boddicker

    My dick was erect.

    • pedro rivera

      dude,show some respect! necrophiliac ass.

      • Clarence Boddicker

        No. Come and make me, you son of a bitch.

        • Steve Smith

          Shut up, you stupid piece of garbage. “Come and make me”. How juvenile. Shut up and grow up, you stupid adolescent loser.

    • Steve Smith

      Good position to neuter you in then. Prevent you from procreating. We don’t need any more losers like you in the world. Freakin’ garbage dirtbag. What a loser.

      • Clarence Boddicker

        No. Actually I shit your opinion and I want you to go fuck yourself. It’s not my fault if you do not fuck. Make peace with your boyfriend soon.

        • Steve Smith

          What a stupid, loudmouthed, moronic piece of crap. If you’re going to attempt to communicate in English, learn the language, dumb ass, Afraid to use your real name, too, I see. Nobody here wants you here anyway, so why don’t you just go away, loser troll.

          • Steve Smith

            BTW, I’ve reported you for inappropriate content. Like your profile says, “Deal with it”. Have a nice day.

    • Joanna Vargas

      yer an idiot