Essay on Post-Mortem Photography

Essay on Post-Mortem Photography

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Post-mortem photography was, and still is, seen as a psychologically unhealthy practice, even when such photographs are historical documentations. Photographs taken during the liberation of concentration camps in the 1940's happen to be some of the most controversial, yet they are crucial to remembering the great tradgedy. Some opponents against post-mortem photography believe that atrocity photographs taken from the Holocaust should be hidden from view as they do nothing to honor the memory of the victims. The photographs by these opponents are seen only as morbid, without any historical value. But despite post-mortem photography's unpopularity in the 20th century—and still today—it was an essential tool in the documentation of the Holocaust and its victims. Therefore, post-mortem photography is not only vital to remembering and educating about the disaster, but also to remembering the individuals which memorial photography attempts to preserve.
Post-mortem photography was once a very popular American practice in the mid to late 19th century, and it was considered a healthy practice by families grieving for their loved ones. Such photographs were labeled memento mori, remembrance photographs, or memorial photographs rather than simply post-mortem photos. Since the invention of the daguerreotype process, “portrait photographers offered postmortem photos as a special service” (Hilliker 247). Often, only the upper half of the corpse would be photographed, but it was also common for full-body pictures to be taken where the corpse would be shown as seated or sleeping, sometimes with family members posed alongside them (Hilliker 247-250). The photographs were commonly “mounted on walls in parlors and bedrooms,” and were also kept i...


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Hilliker, Laurel. "Letting Go While Holding On: Postmortem Photography as an Aid in the Grieving Process." Illness, Crisis & Loss 14.3 (2006): 245-69. Print.
Keilbach, Judith. "Photographs, Symbolic Images, and the Holocaust: On the (Im)Possibility of Depicting Historical Truth." History and Theory 48.2 (2009): 54-76. Wiley Online Library. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 4 May 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.
O'Neill, Mary. "Speaking to the Dead: Images of the Dead in Contemporary Art." Health (London) 15.3 (2011): 299-312. Sage Journals. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
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