Far-Out Friday: Memento Mori (It Was A Victorian Thing)

Memento_Mori3Today it sounds kinda creepy, but post-mortem pictures were not uncommon, especially during the Victorian era.  I’m not talking about taking pictures of the dearly departed in their casket – that is practiced even today as a way to have closure when a loved one passes.  The term used for the practice is “memento mori”, which in Latin means “remember death.”

If you’ve seen pictures taken in the 1800’s that looked at little “odd” or “stiff”, chances are the picture was taken after the person had passed away.  We have to remember, too, that photography in the 1800’s was very (very) different than the instant world we live in today.

Before 1839, only people who were well-off enough to afford it had their portraits painted.  Following the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, more people could afford a photograph, although taking the photograph was hardly a “snap” in those days.  Because of the longer exposure times required in the early days of photography, subjects would have to remain still for several minutes to ensure a blur-free photograph.

BradyStandSitting still might be less of a problem for adults, but imagine requiring a squirmy child to sit still for up to thirty minutes.  Photographers in the nineteenth century often employed the use of stands or tables for their subjects to lean against.  One device called a “Brady stand” was made of cast iron and height-adjustable.

Memento_Mori_PosingStandAnother device called a “posing stand” could be employed to provide even more stability to the subject (dead or alive) allowing them to stand for extended periods of time.  This particular device was also height-adjustable and provided bracing in both the neck and back areas.  Just something to think about the next time you look through a bunch of old pictures of your ancestors – and remember NOTHING was as easy and quick as it is today.

I ran across an interesting article at Answers.com and I’m sharing the pictures posted there (not sure where they originated from, however).  Please click the photos and descriptions to get a better look – they are quite interesting.  It also provides insights into the techniques employed by these photographers and instills an appreciation (even awe) for their skills (and patience!).




Memento_Mori_7You can find more pictures like this on Pinterest.

These types of photographs, of course, are not likely to be taken these days, but I found the history behind it fascinating.  It also made me think of the importance of making memories with your loved ones, whether it’s taking pictures or just spending time together — just sayin’.  Now I’m gonna have to go back and look at some of those old family pictures!

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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