Death Photography

Ayanna Smith

During the Victorian era, it was commonplace for many families to take photographs with loved ones in order to save precious memories of the time.

However, many people took it a step further, and took family portraits with dead family members.

For example, since many kids died during their childhood, they were often propped up into place after their death, in order to have an image commemorating their life.

The youngest child is propped up.

The pictures have good intention—wanting to honor the dead—but the end results are deeply unsettling.

One child is alive, while the other one has passed away.

Families are shown posing around the dead, with the ones who aren’t alive propped up and held as if they were still living.

Children are made to look as if they are sleeping, while older family members are reclining peacefully—giving the illusion that they’re still alive.

Sometimes, photographs would even be painted over in order to showcase eyes that are open instead of closed, making the photograph more ‘life-like’.

The woman on the left has painted over eyes, while the right photograph wasn’t altered.

Not only would this aid in curbing the grief, the pictures would also be a message for the grieving to send to their relatives and friends—‘memento mori’.

Death photography was commonplace until better healthcare improved the life expectancy for children under the age of 5.

While it may not be a tradition currently, the photographs will serve as a reminder of the deeply unsettling trends of the past.