Dress and pose with the dead

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Disclaimer: Originally posted May 2018. It is being reissued as it remains an interesting topic to this day.


One might think that 19e century, Europe, the United Kingdom and America were quite primitive and appropriate in their social traditions. To a large extent they were, but there was a tradition they practiced that seems rather macabre and slightly morbid today: the art of post-mortem photography.

Imagine dressing the corpse of a recently deceased loved one, and posing the body carefully, eyes wide open, then posing casually next to it for a photo. This was basically the gist of how postmortem photography was done.

How it started

Previously, before the art of photography evolved, people would “mourning portraits”, Which were essentially realistic paintings of the dead made while lying in the state and displayed for mourners.

Postmortem photography took it a step further – photos of the dead lying in the state were common, but even more popular was to pose the bodies as if they were alive.

Why photograph the dead?

At best frightening, there were sentimental reasons behind this practice. The idea was to keep one last memory of the dead, to remember them exactly as they were before they died. Many families commissioned these photographs, and several churches did too, for deceased members of their clergy.

Taking pictures of dead children was also believed to help grieving families cope with their loss, but psychologists are not recommending it today.


Read more: In Pictures: What Famous Indian Royal Families Are Doing Today


While posing bodies sitting in chairs or surrounded by flowers was common, a popular practice in Europe was to take a photo of the body in the coffin, sometimes surrounded by mourners.

Sometimes a pink tint was added to the cheeks of the dead and eyeballs were painted on their closed lids.

Although this practice dates back to 1840, people eventually stopped dressing and posing to loved ones in the decades that followed.

Post-mortem photography today

However, postmortem photography is still practiced in America today, although to a much lesser degree – it is used by parents who have experienced a stillborn child. A photograph of the parents holding the stillborn fetus is taken for them to honor the memory of the child who was not fortunate enough to live.

Sites like Now I lay down to sleep honor such families. Some hospitals in the UK and Ireland also offer to take pictures of parents with their stillborn child.

Photos of adults lying in the state are generally not taken at funerals today, as they are considered fairly callous. However, several celebrities have been photographed after their death, and before their last rites.

Some recent examples in India are the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Ms. J. Jayalalithaa and veteran Bollywood actor, Sridevi.

In conclusion, it can be said that while this practice seems strange and macabre, the feelings behind it can be understood – wanting to preserve the last memory of a loved one and remembering them as they were in the life.


Image credits: Google Images

Sources: Daily mail, Wikipedia, Now I lay down to sleep


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