Preserving the Dead: Postmortem Photographs and Funeral Practices in 19th-Century America

Anthony Winslow Enns

Abstract


The rise of the modern funeral industry in 19th-century America introduced new forms of visual display that were designed to eliminate signs of bodily decay, and these practices were remarkably similar to postmortem photographs, in which bodies were cosmetically enhanced and posed in a life-like manner before the camera. Postmortem photography can thus be understood as an intermediate stage toward the modern disappearance of death, yet this practice has not entirely gone away, as postmortem photographs are still used to preserve the dead by creating the illusion of presence rather than confirming the reality of absence. This paper will explore the ways in which photography mediates the experience of death through a closer examination of the parallels between funeral practices and postmortem photographs.

Keywords


photography; death; mourning; embalming; funerals

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References


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