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Design History

19th Century Post-Mortem Photography

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Design History

19th Century Post-Mortem Photography

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It's very hard for people in modern times to understand the concept of post-mortem photography, which was an accepted and even common thing in the 19th century. In the days before Polaroids, camcorders, and digital photos, families who wished to preserve the memory of their loved ones looked to photography. What began as simple photos of deceased loved ones slowly evolved into a design craft of its own, with staging, lighting, decoration, posing, and other production qualities that often resembled second funerals and memorials in and of themselves. The practice eventually faded in popularity (both here and overseas) in the early part of the 20th century.

When looking at these pictures, try to look on them with respect, and within context. These were living people (and pets), with families who loved them, and their decision to do this was done out of love.. Some had money to hire a professional photographer, some had little money at all. What we look at as "morbid" or "bizzare" was simply their efforts to preserve the memory of someone they cherished given the technology they had.

Think of the ways we memorialize our own dead.. Post-mortem photography has been replaced by glittery memorial webpages laden with animated gifs and embedded MIDI music.. Are we really any different?

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