What is Mourning Photography?
Updated: Jan 12
Death & Photography:
"What is mourning photography...?" Mourning photography, also known as "memento mori" or post-mortem photography, refers to the practice of taking photographs of deceased loved ones, especially in the Victorian era. These photographs were often the only way for grieving families to preserve the memory of their deceased loved ones, as the technology for capturing images was still relatively new at the time.
The earliest known example of mourning photography dates back to the mid-19th century. At that time, photography was a relatively expensive and time-consuming process, and it was not uncommon for people to have their portrait taken only once or twice in their lifetime. As a result, when a person died, their surviving family members often wanted to have a photograph taken of the deceased to remember them by.
Initially, mourning photographs were quite formal, with the deceased posed in a lifelike manner, often sitting upright in a chair or lying in a bed as if they were simply sleeping. These photographs were often taken in the home of the deceased, with the family and friends gathered around. As photography technology improved, it became possible to take more natural-looking photographs, with the deceased appearing more at rest.
The practice of mourning photography became particularly popular in the Victorian era, when death was a much more common occurrence than it is today. The Victorian era was marked by high infant mortality rates, as well as the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. As a result, many families experienced the loss of loved ones at a young age, and mourning photographs became a way for them to cope with their grief.
In addition to serving as a way for families to remember their deceased loved ones, mourning photographs were also seen as a way to celebrate the life of the deceased and to honor their memory. These photographs were often displayed in the home and were considered an important part of the mourning process.
While the practice of mourning photography has declined in recent times, it remains an important part of history and serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring bond between family and loved ones.