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 validatesย 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.

Real Post Mortem Photo

Real Antique Post Mortem Photo of Montreal Woman


Some examples of fakes that can be found online…


Mother and child… fake post mortem selling online for over $400. Looks like a sleeping baby to us.


Baby selling online for $245… fake post mortem babies are the most popular it seems.


Fake post mortem woman for sale online for $70.


Fake post mortem child for sale online now. Notice the stand.


Same post mortem child for sale online… obviously a fake.



Comments 101

      1. Thank you, your explanation is perfect. I collect tintypes and am always suspicious when one is claimed to be post mortem when i’m sure its not…..

    1. it is, and it’s disrespectful of people to sell a normal portrait as a post mortem. Victorian people loved their families as much as we do and wouldn’t prop them up to pose as alive. The whole idea is silly. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. We sell post mortem photos like the woman laying with the flowers around her. We don’t sell fake ones or claim any that may be fake. I don’t find it immoral either. The ones we have are of people unfortunately long forgotten. Mostly thrown out or sold by family members who never knew them. There is a curiosity to them that people enjoy. Sadness, beauty and history. I’m also a professional photographer and have shot a few deceased in my lifetime. I can’t judge people for wanting the vintage shots or for wanting them taken of deceased family members now.

    3. I was referring to this day and age…I find it very paparazzi like. It wasn’t meant as a shot at you or your business. If a family member wants a photo of a deceased member of their family, that’s up to them. Selling photos of the deceased celebrity bodies, etc was what I meant.

  1. I agree with the writer of the article. Post Mortem photography should be embraced. I have photos I took of my grandfathers funeral. It makes me appreciate every photo I have of him as well as documenting and celebrating his life after passing. Thanks for sharing this. Great article.

  2. Very interesting article. I agree with taking photos from beginning to end, although often difficult to capture, its does historically place that person from beginning till end. Cheers, thanks for sharing.

  3. There is actually some truth to this. Many people could not deal with the death of a loved one, so they would leave the body in the home, either in bed or their favorite seat in the home………eerie but very true.

    1. the deceased usually went to funeral parlors when there was no one to look after them. Most people died in their homes, often the home they were born in, often the same home where they watched their parents die. They were much more comfortable with death then we are today.

    1. I’ve taken care of dead people as a nurses aide and the eyes are very hard to close, the funeral director says not to touch them.

  4. I absolutely love Victorian era PM photos. They’re era may not be open in a lot of them…but they would often paint eyes on the deceased to make them seem more “alive”. Most of the time the photographer wasn’t very skilled in this art and it looked more horrifying than realistic. I studied these in college especially the “sleeping beauties”. I am absolutely fascinated by them. Thank you for this post!!!!

  5. “I should also note that posing stands werenโ€™t strong enough to โ€˜holdโ€™ a body up. So if you see an image with a posing stand behind the person, they are most certainly alive. Dead people donโ€™t need help standing still.”

    Dead people might not need help standing still but they do need help standing up. There are also pictures where the person is very, very clearly dead and is being held standing with the help of a stand.
    I get where you’re going with this and I agree that there are a lot of fakes out there, but the way you make your case isn’t the best possible.

    1. I have never seen a PM with the deceased standing. That seems to me to be difficult, not to mention disrespectful. And the Victorians would not have been disrespectful.

  6. Obviously none of you know anything about post mortem photography. In the eras where photography was less common or unavailable….Not to mention very costly…There would be no pictures of the deceased. In order to have memories…yes…they would prop up and photograph thier loved ones and even paint eyes on them so they appeared alive. Do some research. ..I promise it won’t hurt

    1. You “me” are not correct. Photography was widely available by the middle of the 19th century and middle class and even poor families had photographic albums. It was not “very costly”. They did photograph their dead but they did not “prop them up” It is obvious that your research has been reading Pinterest pages that spread the myths of the standing post mortems. My research has been over 40 years of reading original sources from the period and there is no basic for the false information that infects the internet!

  7. Hate to burst the balloon but a Kodak box Brownie, with ASA 25 b/w film only took 1/25th of a second to capture an image. How do I KNOW that? I’m 84 years old, that’s why and I owned a Box Brownie. All one had to do is remain stationary (hold your breath if you wanted to) and not move. Saw one image that showed the hand movement of supposed “deceased” – THEN I noticed it was that hand of someone BEHIND the “center of interest”.

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      hi N. Melvin… you are right about that camera… the problem is in the article it said 1939 to 1941 when it should have said 1839 to 1841… BIG mistake on my part, but i fixed it. With all of these posts, you would think someone would have caught that before now. Thanks!!

  8. Thank you for pointing out that so many of these “post mortem” photos are actually LIVE people having their photos taken. I’ve studied Victorian photography extensively and the posing stands WERE used to hold people still for the long shutter exposure in most cases. Also, if a woman has a blanket over her head and is holding a child, she is not “shrouded in respect for her dead child”, she’s trying to hold the child still for the camera and may be singing or talking to her LIVE child.

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      I’m a photographer, and parents still get covered or hidden to hold babies during a photoshoot. Silly to think otherwise.

  9. What do you mean dead people don’t need help standing still? And your assumption that the babies are mostly sleeping, look at the parents expressions! I have seen a few modern day memorial photos of still born babies, and I can assure you they were not sleeping.

    As for the exposure times. You say yourself from 10 seconds to 30 minutes. How do you know which for each pic? Do you know how much time was required for each of these pictures? I can stand perfectly still for over a minute! Heck some of the photos could be from the mid 1900’s for all we know. Post mortem memorial photos are still common today.

    And the stands where rarely used for living people. Why would they? They COULD hold themselves up for that long and in cases where they could not, they would sit or lean on something. In the photos where you see a stand, you also see a waist coat or similar. Under that the body has a large sturdy strap fastening the body to the stand. They especially wanted their dead to pose standing as it obviously adds better to the illusion of life. And many of the photos where doctored after they where taken to paint in unfocused or cloudy eyes. That’s why so many look so remarkably “alive”. Photographers where of very good artists too, give them a magnifying glass and a very fine tipped brush….

    Oh…. and it didn’t take long for them to invent flash photography. Did the flash powder stay illuminated for 10 seconds to 30 minutes too? And are you asserting that clever make up techniques were invented to that quality most recently?

    This article is so poorly researched, it saddening. The only thing that anyone can have any kind certain about (if even) that the photos was taken at some point. There is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to determine if the persons in the photo are deceased or not.

    WHY would anybody want to BUY a photo of a deceased STRANGER in the first place!

    But…. all said and done…. Fakes do exist! I sell them too; to gullible morbid ‘Emos’ and freaks that have too much time and money on their hands. The last one I got paid for was taken last year at a themed old west tourist park! LMAO! For $50 bucks you get a costume and a ye ‘oldie photo. Oh…… by the way…. They don’t use ‘stands’. lol

    1. “Jack” — I am a professional photographer, a degreed historian, and a collector of antique cameras, nineteenth-century photographic equipment and images, and I can assure you that not only are you crass, uneducated, and obnoxious– you’re also completely full of sh_t. Your statements are so wildly inaccurate that they’re not even wrong. Where did you learn about the history of photography?

      If you want to learn something (about anything really), read a book, attend a class (over grade 5), or ask an educated professional. Otherwise, keep your pathetic, childish, paranoid opinions to yourself. Moron.

    2. “And the stands where rarely used for living people. Why would they? They COULD hold themselves up for that long and in cases where they could not, they would sit or lean on something. ” This statement alone Mr. Jack Frost shows you have very little if any knowledge of the history of photography or the technological practices of the 19th and early 20th century in photography. This statement and your assumptions are categorically incorrect. Someone once said a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

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        The stands were solely used for LIVING models as nothing more than a gentle guide or support due to the length of the exposure. Even the novice or photographically iliterate can come to this conclusion given the prevalence in virtually all early photography. To assume that the stand could even remotely support “dead weight” is nothing short of ludicrous. Post mortem photographs are easily identifiable. Families did not “play” with their loved ones they did not pose them like dolls or toys; They were photographed in state, at a wake, in a coffin, on a bed or babes sometimes in the arms of their mothers.

    3. I teach 19th century art history, which includes photography. I am also a photographer, and love using old cameras including an early bellows lens camera that my grandfather used in the early 1900s. First, it is actually hard to stand still and not blink for a whole minute. Children are frequently blurry because they squirm- which can produce very odd effects- the most common being out of focus hands. Second, even with external light sources, the use of mirrors etc, until they improved both the focus and the shutter speed- long exposures were the norm. They did use metal stands for both standing and seated adults, one reason people can look so stiff. It was not until 1877 that the first studio using electric light was opened. Limelight was used used widely around 1839-1840, the results of using the chemical were rather poor: chalk-white pale faces and a harshly lit picture. These photographs and ones taken with other chemical processes are very obvious. Later arc-lamps were introduced to aid photographers, but it was not until 1877 that the first studio using electric light was opened. Powered by a gas-driven dynamo the studio by Van der Weyde in Regent Street, had the light sufficient to allow exposures of 2 to 3 seconds. It was possible that dead people could have been propped up, but after rigor mortis passed, they would be quite flaccid and would likely have one to two people flanking them holding them up too. After the first 24 hours, the eyes would be dried out and sunken, and the family usually had to wait at least a day or two to bring a photographer in, so in most cases (the grand majority) the eyes would be shut. I have heard that a talented undertaker (they weren’t called morticians until later) could paint in eyes on the eyelids- but most families especially in the first half to 3/4’s of the 19th c. did not use undertakers- that is something that didn’t become the norm until towards the end of the 19th c. The practice of embalming and the currently normal practice of undertakers instead of the family caring and preparing the dead only really started in America after the Civil war, when the families wished that their dead soldiers to be brought home, and because of the time in transit- embalming became necessary. This practice spread- but most middle class and poorer folks were prepared by the family, and only buried by the undertakers. Cameras did not become a normal household object until after the turn of the century and the progress made by Eastman Kodak. Brownies were not developed and then sold until February of 1900. The information of external lighting comes from an article by Ivan Tolmachev titled the Brief History of Photographic Flash. Much of what I see referred to as Post Mortem photographs are instances of early photographic process and errors. Families had time, and the care and love of their dead loved one to prepare and pose them for the photograph. There are certain things, besides the casket- that make this obvious. A rosary in the hands, flowers around the head, a bible in the hands etc. and most are reclining or being held by one or more family members.

    4. Tho “old fashion” camera in those parks are NOT the same as the ones the Victorians used. Sorry. I have worked with period photographers in a museum. They could never turn out prints fast enough with the authentic old cameras and they would have needed stands. What you are saying is all opinion. You need to really research the subject you are talking about.

    5. I agree with this poster that some of the so-called post mortem photos are not of dead people. However, as the writer pointed out those photos of sad mothers holding their
      ” sleeping” babies ARE post mortem. WHY WOULD A PARENT WANT A PICTURE OF A SLEEPING BABY!!! Parents then and now would want a keepsake of an awake baby not a sleeping one!

    6. –Some of these pics were taken in the middle of the 1900’s???? You mean like the 1940’s, 50’s, or 60’s?????

  10. I actually have a post-mortem picture of a ggg-grandmother in her coffin with all the family posed around her before burial. Interesting photo.

  11. I have a print of Aimee Semple McPherson lying in state, surrounded by flower displays. It’s a paper print about 10″ x 14″ in size. What do you think it;s worth? It’s been in the family since she passed and I imagine it was a mass produced memento for her followers.

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  12. There are a good many videos on youtube of these photos. Several people have obviously spent a great deal of time assembling large numbers of them to make numerous videos. Nearly all of them seem to believe that if they can see the base of a posing stand that the person in the picture is dead! I studied photography in college, years ago, and saw (and even worked with) several antique posing stands. There was NO WAY those stands could have supported the weight of an adult dead body. While I believe there may be a few p.m. photos where the person is pictured standing, I’d want to know the provenance of any “standing” photo claimed to be post mortem.

    When I tried, politely, to tell a couple of people that the mere presence of a posing stand did not always indicate a p.m. photo, I received a number of belligerent replies telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, claiming all sorts of bizarre and unlikely poses were of deceased people., etc etc. I’ve seen in museums and antique stores many more posing stands than I actually worked with and NONE of the ones made pre-1900 that I’ve ever seen could have supported or posed a deceased person. People sometimes act like they think ANY photo taken before 1890 MUST be a post mortem photo! I have seen well known works of early photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron claimed as p.m. and even seen stills from Hollywood movies claimed as antique p.m. photos! SMDH. People are so credulous and gullible it’s a shame.

  13. You are so WRONG! You are so lacking in this subject! Before you go putting a website up you should educate yourself on the subject!

  14. Before you put up a website such as this one, you should thoroughly educate yourself on the subject matter instead of offering misinformation to the public. It is well known in Victorian times they took photographs of the dead, and in attempts to make them as lifelike as possibly, opening the eyes, using props to pose them in life like positions. You state the 1st pic is “fake” in those days many people could not afford photographs, why they didn’t take the time and money to do this till someone died. No photographer would have taken a picture of a SLEEPING baby versus an awake one! Or the 5th picture of the little boy “standing” by the table WITH a PROP BEHIND HIM, no “prop” is going to keep a LIVE child still!!!- -THIS WEBSITE TERRIBLE! It’s the worst piece of garbage I’ve ever come across!

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      The prop stands weren’t meant to hold someone in place. It didn’t hold anyone up either. If you ever saw or touched one of those pose stands, you wouldn’t be arguing here. It was meant more as a guide so you didn’t move because the cameras exposure time took so long. It’s not rocket science. You can look at any posed photo from any generation and make excuses as to why it’s a post mortem, but 9.5 times out of 10, it won’t be. I’m going to assume the last two posts are from people who sell antique photos as post mortems… just a wild guess. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. I’d love to see your research Kseniya. I’ve worked in Victorian collections since 1987 and have NEVER seen a verified Victorian postmortem photo that was standing. There are hundreds of postmortems but you will never see them standing, even with a stand, focusing their eyes on the camera, or sitting up straight on their own .

      Please don’t tell me your research was done on Flickr , HubPages or any of those heavily advertised sites. Anyone with an email address can put anything up that they like on those sites. The site managers love the myth of the standing postmortem photo because it draws people to their websites and that is how they get paid, by advertisers, by the click.

    3. No, she is 100% correct, while Victorians certainly did take photos post Mortem, the vast majority of them were while the deceased is in a coffin or surrounded by flowers. The stands used to keep people still were not made to take the full weight of a dead body. Unfortunately,every photo where the subject looks somewhat uncomfortable, or the eyes look a bit strange., or the stand is visible is being touted as a post Mortem photo, which is completely untrue… This article is dead on (excuse the pun), I’m glad someone is trying to get the truth told for all those gullible people who think every Victorian photo is of a cadaver…

  15. Prove that all those baby photos were fakes. You’re so stupid. Photography was extremely rare and very, very expensive back then, so MOST people really didn’t have any photos of their children alive. Just because YOU’D never take a photo of a dead loved one doesn’t mean all these other people wouldn’t. Your ignorance is disgusting.

  16. For the record: I’ve always enjoyed looking at the faces, eyes, apparel, furnishings, hairstyles, etc. of the past, they are kind of a window to history, but I’ve only recently begun looking at PMs. It’s a passing curiosity for me, and I consider somewhat of an art really – but I am not nor will ever be interested enough to collect them…

    I had clicked on this site hoping for some definitive explanation as to why some standing PMs look more alive than others; but unfortunately what I got was a rather arrogant dismissal of those deemed unintelligent and gullible by the website creator.

    * To say that all standing PMs are fake is just as flawed as saying that all of them are authentic. The fact is, none of us were there, so we do not know for sure.

    * To say that people from that era had difficulty sitting or standing still for however long the process took, I think is a bit silly. These people were used to having lengthy “sit/stand still” sessions for portrait paintings, so a photograph session probably seemed miraculously fast to them. I do not see the need to strap a living person to a pole for a picture that, at most, would take a half hour – but perhaps this was occasionally done.

    * To say that the dead could not be supported by a stand seems odd to me. The stand is not HOLDING the dead weight up; the stand is PROPPING them up. Advancing rigor mortis and gravity are doing the rest.

    * To say that a baby looks asleep to you is applying no logic to the situation captured on film. WE take pictures of sleeping babies; THEY didn’t. Those photos were very expensive, and a mother is going to want her child awake for that moment. Their lives would have revolved around being prepared for that photograph to be taken and for it to be as perfect as possible. But if the child has passed on, all you can do is snap the picture, and be struck by the barely concealed sorrow in the living member’s eyes…

    As I’ve looked at various pictures, I tend to look for clues. And while I’m sure there are numerous fakes out there (standing or otherwise), I do not believe that MOST are, the way the author appears to be claiming for the ones with stands, and for many of the so-called sleeping babies.

    They liked to look somber in pictures back then, just like they did in portrait paintings – I get that. But with death, there is more of a hollow “new grief/shock” look in their eyes. The way any of us would look on the very day our loved one died. I see some of them giving it good effort to look lively, or happy, or like it was a normal day so that the picture is more life-like (I can almost hear the photographer encouraging this) – but a lot of them can’t quite manage it. It’s a look you can’t fake, and they had no reason to.

    I look for completely unnatural postures, ie., someone standing like they are alive, next to someone whose feet and legs are angled in a way that none of us living would be comfortable with. I look for bodies leaning forward or backward a little more than a living person would for a pose. I look for eyes that have no life in them – expressionless/unanimated – staring at something the living person is not looking at. I look for signs of rigor mortis in their hands/arms in their poses. I look for signs of distress in the faces of family posing next to them – sometimes the children look a little freaked out, or just extremely sad and confused by the whole ordeal.

    Anyway, people can agree to disagree, but tone does matter. Perhaps if you lose the snarky holier-than-thou verbage, and just put your FACTS out there, along with supporting EVIDENCE, you will come across as a credible source on the subject, instead of a stuck-up member of the “smarter than everybody else” clique that you come across as now.

    1. Even miniature portraits were expensive in the 19th c., and your average middle/lower class family could not afford to have a portrait made. Even those that were painted by the cheapest itinerant painters. Painted portraits were for the upper class and very wealthy, unless you had a family member who painted. After Daguerre commercialized his process and it spread all over- then and only then could your average family afford an image, and most of them were very hasty decisions (depending on location and weather- people were buried between 1-4 days after death) made after someone had died, because now even they could afford an image, albeit bittersweet, of their dead loved one.
      I teach 19th century art history, at the university level.

  17. A few maybe are dead but most of them are fakes. I think people just want to think these are dead people because of the weird creepy and bazaar feeling it gives them. It was all creepy to me too until I learned more about the whole process. There is no way you could make a person look as natural as some of these look.
    I do a little selling on ebay myself and if I ever come across an old photo of a person with a stand behind them, you bet that I’m going to suggest that it’s a possible post mortem pic. If some dumbass wants to give me big $$$ because he/she wants to believe it’s post mortem, that’s money in my pocket.

  18. You are so right! All the images at the top of the post are indeed fakes. There is so much misunderstanding of the history of photography here that it makes my head spin. Posing stands were ONLY used to help live people hold still. They were NEVER used, nor could they be, to hold up dead people. I have studied, taught, and collected photography for more than 40 years and I have multiple shelves of period books on photographic techniques. Nowhere is there any mention of holding up dead people only of the best technique to make people comfortable with a posing stand. I am not sure you the web link to my Pinterest page will post but if you please check out: http://www.pinterest.com/brightbytes/the-posing-stand-for-helping-live-people-hold-stil/

  19. I believe you are right about these photos being faked. This was well written with just on minor mistake. Though the two boys on bottom do look similar, one has brown eyes, the other light hazel or blue. They are not the same boy, but to your credit, they are both definitely not post mortem.

  20. Thank you for this article. I came across another website claiming creepy post mortem photos and curious, I scrolled through them. I was hard pressed to believe a single one of these people were deceased. I claim to no nothing about photography, but I am an expert at deceased people. I have worked as a mortician for the last 12 years. A deceased person is very difficult to maneuver. There is no muscle tension and even facial features are tricky. We use a lot oof very sophisticated and even state of the art techniques to achieve a look of merely peaceful slumber. It would take even more sophisticated equipment than we even have now to photograph even a deceased child standing virtually unaided. If you don’t believe me that is perfectly fine, but just try tying an unconscious child to half a coat rack and see how well your photos come out. The only reason I can see for anyone to attack the article writer over this would be if they are feeling silly over being had, or angry and someone educating their unsuspecting target. Just saying.

  21. I just had to leave a comment. I have no experience or expertise regarding pm photos. But i must say that it is quite sad that we live in a time where people are becoming increasingly foolish, and crooked as well. This whole world is one big mess. And it is distorting the past through deception. Wisdom comes from the past. We should treat it like gold. But it needs to be accurately presented.

  22. Well hi! I know this is an older thread but in case there’s still anyone out there? I’m not a photographer, teacher or in any way educated about PM photos. I was just taken aback and surprised at the anger (& even VENOM!) aimed at the author! After perusing all the comments I went back and read the article again thinking I MUST HAVE missed something!?! Nah. I found it interesting & informative (and also SOME that are intelligent comments) but most of all it MADE SENSE. Obviously those stands are in no way capable of supporting literal “dead weight”. Working in health care for 30+ years, I have handled my share of dead bodies & there’s simply NO WAY one could be “propped up” … as for “gravity”, that’s an excellent reason for the body to fall over not stand up. OMG LOL!! Anyhoo, I found the author’s “tone” to be not in the LEAST “snarky” or “holier than thou” … I have no idea where than opinion is coming from?? TY for listening & especially for the GREAT READ!! โœŒ๏ธ

  23. Some of these commentators would not believe the truth if it was wrapped in a ribbon and presented to them. Victorians DID photograph their dead relatives, but NOT standing. Common sense should tell you that the stand could not hold up the dead weight of a body without a buckling of the legs. The legs are just not going to take the weight of a body. The stand went around the neck and waist. Gravity would have to pull the body down and there is no way it would appear to be standing on its own feet. Just physically impossible. Have you ever had someone faint in your arms? I have and they’re bloody heavy. Their legs buckle. Do you seriously believe that a stand is going to hold up a fully grown dead person? Where you see a stand they are always alive. Lying down on a chaise, couch, bed coffin, yes they could be dead. What the writer is saying here is 100% correct. What you believe is up to you…..

  24. This article was informative. The person claiming that photography was expensive and they wouldn’t want a baby photographed sleeping is quite ignorant. A sleeping child would be easier to photograph. As for the stands, I’ve been a Registered Nurse for 30 years and as the previous comment, gravity would cause the body to fall. The stand could not possibly hold up a dead body! As for the people that are cheating others out of their money, what goes around comes around. People like you ruin the world.

  25. Stands were used for living subjects. While it is possible for someone to stand still for long periods, keeping the head still is quite another matter. As with most portraits, the eyes and face are the focal points. A head brace attached to a stand kept the subject’s head still. It’s almost impossible to determine if a subject was alive or dead, simply by the presence of a stand. Often with post mortem poses, the waist is tied to the post but this too is not always the case. As for sleeping babies v deceased babies, I find it impossible to tell. A new born may we’ll be left asleep while a picture of mother and baby was taken. I see no way of knowing without being there. I agree that a birth till death record is a collection to treasure, hard sometime to achieve. I find these 19th and early 20th century images a marvellous source of information but some of the more obvious post mortem pictures do creep me out. One I’ve seen recently was of an old lady, who had clearly been dead for a while, posed with a child who could have been dead or alive (hard to tell.). Clearly someone wanted a photo of grandma and granddaughter.

  26. Also, to the ignorant folks that claim a stand is not necessary to take a picture with extremely long exposure time: Try this out yourself. Grab your camera (not cell phone) and wait until it’s dark out. Set your aperture as small as your camera will allow (f16 or as close to it, or even smaller if you can), and the ISO as low as it will go. A point-and-click camera on “Auto” will have a long exposure time of at least a few seconds in the dark as well, so you can really try this with pretty much any camera that isn’t a cell phone.
    Put your camera on a tripod or the hood of your car or something to hold it still, set the self-timer and take a picture of yourself standing in front of it.

    See how extremely blurry you are in that pic? Yep, every single tiny movement will create motion blur. Now you know.

    And THAT dear folks is why they used stands on LIVING people. Not to prop them up, but to hold alive and breathing people still enough to take a picture that wouldn’t come out looking blurry. And the stiff poses? That’s not rigor mortis, but the photographer instructing the (alive!) subject to hold a stiff pose, since a stiff pose is easier to hold still than a relaxed one.

    I understand some folks feel the need to really believe every black and white picture is that of a dead person and I like morbid details as much as the next guy, but when it comes to these Victorian pictures most are wrong… If there’s a stand in the picture, you can 100% guarantee that person was alive aand kicking when the picture was taken.

  27. Our family has several old photo albums. They contain dusty old family photos going back several generations. Great relatives are shown dressed similarly to those in some of these photos, and like these, the man would be seated while the woman stood next to him, unsmiling. I’m sure some photos show my family members with their eyes closed, too, or the photos are now so faded, their eyes are hard to make out. I wonder… if I put one of those photos of my great grandparents online… how long do you think it’ll take before that photo of MY relatives ends up in a post mortem photography article? Not long, I’m sure, even though no one is dead in any of those photos that I know of.

    People like making up stories about others, don’t they. In this case, it’s to feed a morbid curiosity to the movie crowd who has seen “The Others” a dozen times. I’m in with that bunch too. But the attacking on here of those who have a different viewpoint, well that is just plain ugly. And those who left scathing comments, could it be those are from the people who are making money off selling fake photos to unsuspecting buyers or putting up fake photos in blogs or websites where they make money? Perhaps they don’t want the truth to come out — cause there goes their business?

    Well, it got me to thinking. Here we are, feeling pain looking at loving photos of the deceased during Victorian times and shaking our heads in amazement at the way things were done then. A hundred years from now, will people be sharing stories of the early 21st century, feeling pain looking at the hurt caused by an online society of anonymous bullies, and shaking their heads at what is happening now?

  28. Thanks for this! It is very frustrating to see all of these photos passed off as post mortem photos! There are photos of Abraham Lincoln that show the posing stand. I saw one photo of a child being passed off as a post mortem even though there was movement blur of one of his feet! Most of the fake post mortems of standing or seated people or sleeping babies come from the very early era of photography when exposure times were long. For older children, they had them lean or lie on an older person to help them stay still. If you wanted a photo of a baby, you had to take it while the baby was asleep and still. Also, with the long exposure times, the eyes became blurry because of blinking, so many times eyes were painted in which often looked odd. People were told to hold their hands limp and put them on an object so they could also be still. If you see eyes that are milky colored and not painted in, that person is alive! Also, if they’re focused, they’re alive! Also, some people lying in beds were very sick and were going to die, but they took the photo before they died.

  29. You never should have written this. You could have at least studied the topic first. Of course there are fakes. But if you actually think all pm photographs were done with the deceased laying down on a couch or in a coffin you are clearly, CLEARLY, ignorant on the subject. There are even advertisements from that era explaining how they use the stands and can paint on eyes to make it appear the person is alive. It never really worked though considering its pretty easy to determine someone is dead by simply looking at them. Once you have actually seen a dead body, the difference is obvious. This is an opinion piece, based on your own skepticism, and it’s irresponsible to present it as fact. You just made all the people who believe you a little dumber through this experience.

  30. I can see how easily it is to sell a fake PM photo. During the early days of photography people were restrained with straps, head rests and stands and told basically to make like a corpse because of the excruciatingly long exposure time of the camera.
    Dignified is the PM pictures where the corpse is lying down surrounded by flowers.Creepy and morbid was forcing a child or adult to pose with a barely cold loved one’s corpse as if still alive

  31. I hate it when any strange looking photo is labeled as pot mortem. They were far less common then people assume. It’s true that the stands used for photos could rarely, if ever hold up a cadaver.
    Many exposure times were more like 10 to 30 seconds rather than minutes. Try getting a kid to sit still that long.
    It was not uncommon to have the person close his eyes to prevent the blur from blinking and sometimes try to paint eyes on later. Rarely worked well.
    The post mortem freaks should go to their main reference libraries and pull out books from the 1800s and early 1900s. They will see just how rare it was.

  32. I have no idea why so many people are getting their knickers in a twist over this entry. It’s mystifying how easily piqued some people are, acting like the author is attacking them on a personal level. That’s absurd. (Not to mention incredibly infantile.)

    Ha, ha – maybe the negative comments were left by a couple of those unscrupulous E-Bay charlatans. Oh, that would just be too funny. ๐Ÿ˜€

    As for antique photographs like these, I prefer to approach each photo independently and study it thoroughly and then use the evidence to draw the logical conclusion, but that’s just my preference.

    PMP is extremely interesting and I don’t think it’s morbid or creepy at all. The strongest emotion it elicits from me is simply sadness. I think we can’t even begin to understand how delicately balanced life and death were in antiquity. And even though mortality rates were high and the spectre of death loomed ever near, that doesn’t mean people ever got “used” to it. I’d imagine losing a child back then, when it was much more common, still wracked his/her parents with the same kind of anguish as losing a child in this day and age, even though mortality rates have plummeted substantially. Grief is grief, I suppose.

    But anyway, I found this article enlightening and not at all “condescending,” or “holier-than-thou,” so I don’t know what those fools were on about. I guess it goes to show that some people just aren’t happy unless they’re making everybody else as unhappy as they are. That’s really sad.

  33. Maybe the picture of the first fake is real, but it’s the mother who’s deceased. The baby looks like it’s sleeping, but mom looks weird, and her hands are rigid and not even touching her child.

  34. READ this person’s webpage and take it to heart. I am in my 40s, have archival experience, and have a master’s in museum science. I’ve worked with probably thousands of 19th century photos, and I have a personal collection of 300 at least. With all of this I have MAYBE seen a couple of dozen REAL clearly postmortem photos; and two of those are in my private collection. While new information constantly comes to light about obscure practices, I am extremely familiar with 19th century American domestic culture. Yes, the Victorians DID make photos of the deceased in their coffins, lying on beds or sofas, and occasionally (in the case of a small child) being held. Executed criminals and those killed in gunfights were often propped up somehow, in a coffin or on a board. Victorians had NO problem with this. They openly mourned and grieved; they almost celebrated death in some cases. I’ve been shocked by reading some of these comments. Apparently people do not want to believe what many experts are telling them: that a lot of these so-called postmortem photos are convenient ways to SEPARATE THE UNWARY FROM THEIR $$$. Living people (not dead ones) used posing stands, that people having their photos made were often frightened or made weird faces, that the dead were NOT routinely sat up or stood up to look “alive,” and that there is a HUGE market in FAKED postmortem photos. In any case, unless a person is CLEARLY deceased in a photo, you need historical proof that he/she was dead before paying huge amounts of money. I can promise you that many people who look “strange” in photos, and all those sleeping babies (often sold as postmortems) did not die until years later…at least that’s the case in some of my family photos. Another thing: blue does not register well in some old photographic processes; so blue eyes on perfectly alive people sometimes look white, which makes them look rather strange. There has been some seriously shoddy “research” and information published on the internet about this topic, and websites have spread this misinformation due to its sensational nature. DO NOT BELIEVE IT. At the very least, require documentation if you are paying huge amounts of money for a photo of a person who simply might be ill, convalescent, or making a weird face. If you pay big bucks for ANYTHING it should be for an artifact with PROVENANCE (history) , and that history can’t just be something a dealer scrawled on a piece of paper. Again, unless there is CLEAR, PRIMARY SOURCE MATERIAL to support any historical claim, SHAVE WITH OCCAM’S RAZOR. Go with the most logical and statistically probably explanation FIRST in any situation.

  35. Why is it that people who write posts telling you to do your research never provide any links, citations or any other sources whatsoever? I suspect a lot of them not only don’t know much about Victorian photography, they haven’t had much exposure to dead bodies either. If they’re the ones selling these things as post-mortem photos, then shame on them.

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