Sunday, September 25, 2011

Memento mori

I have got to be the stupidest person ever for doing this at one a.m., but I've been reading and watching videos on post-mortem photography. Daphne posted a link to an article on it on Facebook, and I clicked on it, intrigued. Maybe I really shouldn't have -- it is honestly the creepiest thing I've come across in a long time.

In the Victorian era, photos were crazy expensive (boo hoo, camwhores) and most people couldn't afford them. When a loved one died, people wanted a photo to remember them by -- hence the practice of post-mortem photography. Most of the time, the body was dressed up and made to look as if the person was merely asleep; if they didn't die a horrible death or have disfigurements and stuff, the effect was pretty convincing. It's creepy to look at these old photos of seemingly asleep people and know that what you're looking at are really dead bodies.

What was even more creepy was that sometimes people posed with the dead bodies. I'm not just talking about sitting beside their coffins, either -- they would sit beside the propped-up body, maybe sling an arm around it (0:33 of this video -- mute the freaky music!), stuff like that. Also, keep in mind that photography back then was not like photography today. The exposure time was super long, so you had to sit completely still for at least a few minutes in order to get your photo taken (which is why no one was smiling in photos those days). Imagine having to remain sitting with your arm around your sibling's dead body for five minutes. Brrr. I wonder how they managed to keep from breaking down completely before the camera.

A heartbreaking number of the photos are of children or babies. It makes sense if you think about it -- it was more likely that small, weak children would die of diseases than adults would, and parents would be willing to fork out the money to get photos of their deceased child. Some of the more well-done ones are so convincing that it really is hard to believe you're looking at a dead body.

I'm not having any photos in this post, because they're pretty darn morbid. However, if you think you wouldn't be too freaked out and would like to see them, click here for an article and photos, and here for a slide show.

Boy, am I gonna have fun sleeping tonight. The things you stumble across on the Internet...

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