Photography in the Victorian era was in its infancy and Victorians had a much different attitude to death than we have now. Having photos taken was very expensive and most families didn’t own a camera. It is well known that mortality rates were high in this era due mostly to diseases and poor hygiene. When a loved one died the Victorians were presented with an opportunity to imortalise their beloved in a way that was previously impossible: they could photograph them. Because of the high cost of photography, post-mortem/also called memento mori photographs were, in many cases, the only photograph a family had of the deceased.
Most often the dead would be posed as if they were still alive, often in a natural scene with siblings or parents. Children were posed with toys or asleep in their bed. Even special frames were cleverly used to make the corpse stand upright. For many poor children whose siblings died, they would be required to pose with their brother or sister in a macabre family portrait.One of the more popular poses would be holding a book. Often due to the slow process of taking pictures with early cameras, the living in photographs are slightly blurred whilst the dead – who cannot move – appears with crystal clarity. Sometimes in an effort to make them appear alive they would paint eyes on the closed eyelids of the deceased.
I do find them fascinating and I respect and appreciate their reasons for having these pictures made for them it was an act of love but I also find them really sad.