Pictures Of The Dead – The Truth About Post Mortem Photography
To some, the very idea of Victorian Post Mortem Photography can be chilling… especially when you see these images where a deceased loved one appears to be alive. Sitting with family, standing and posing… like they did in life. They appear to be alive because… they are! When these images were taken, the people posing were very much alive and kicking.
There is a lot of misunderstanding going on about antique post mortem photos showing the deceased standing upright and the use of the posing stand. The purpose of the posing stand was to stop you from moving, staying in position because the exposure time took anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 minutes. That’s no lie… in 1839 to 1841, it took from 15 to 30 minutes for the camera to process the image. So many times, even with the stand… the eyes may still look funny, possibly from looking around or blinking during the exposure.
I should also note that posing stands weren’t strong enough to ‘hold’ a body up. So if you see an image with a posing stand behind the person, they are most certainly alive. Dead people don’t need help standing still.
Many eBay sellers are jacking prices and pushing images as post mortem because of the stand showing and the odd faces (expressions), or awkward poses. These sellers also like to show a close-up of a “dark” hand… as if that somehow validates their standing post mortem claim. Nonsense.
There are dozens if not 100’s of examples of these post mortem hoaxes on eBay right now. Don’t buy into it. Victorians didn’t pose their loved ones as these sellers would like you to believe. They are clearly trying to trick new collectors into buying them and these photos are worth a fraction of what they are selling them for.
It was customary to pose their dead lying down in beds, cribs, coffins, or even couches in their home surrounded by flowers. Or posed in their coffins with family outside just before burial. Sadly, this was very common because it may have been the only photo ever taken of the person.
On a personal note… to me as a photographer… I find the post mortem photos to bring a life full circle so I’m not freaked out about it. We should photograph from birth to death and document entire lives. It’s not creepy or morbid… it’s life.
Some examples of fakes that can be found online…