The Macabre Victorian Era Post-Mortem Photography Trend

We are all too familiar with trends. Be it fashion or diets, they keep changing, and what’s in at one moment, is out the next. Over time, we’ve seen many trends come and go. Some agreeable with most people and others not so much. But when it comes downright to macabre, it seems the Victorian era post-mortem photography trend hits the top.

To prop up the dead and make them look alive for one last photo, photographers had to get creative to give their customers satisfaction. Following are the post-mortem photos from that time. Take a look.

How the Victorian era post-mortem photography came to be a thing.

Taking a last photo of the recently deceased was a common practice in the Victorian era. There were no funeral homes as we know them to be today. So, if someone died, the families placed the deceased inside their homes to hold a wake until the funeral. You can read about the purpose of holding a wake in Tradition Origins. Flowers were placed around the body to hide the smell of decay. To preserve the memory of the loved ones death, the dead needed to look like they were just asleep. Therefore great care took place in the preparations.

victorian era post-mortem photography

Perhaps some families never had the chance to have pictures taken before their loved one passed away. Or maybe the trend started because infant mortality was so high that young children died without leaving behind a photographic memory. But gradually the Victorian era post-mortem photography turned from previously “sleeping” dead photos to looking very much alive and posing for one last photo.

At the beginning, these type of photos were only reserved for the wealthy, due to the high cost. Later on, less expensive forms of photography became available and just about everyone was able to have a picture taken. The new macabre way of the Victorian era post-mortem photography became a fast growing trend among people of all classes.

Victorian era post-mortem photography raised the demand of creative photographers

Photographers seemed to pop up from everywhere and the competition became tough. In order to stick out from the crowd and attract customers they worked hard to produce that special photographic memory.

While many families still preferred photos of their children in their beds, the demand for more life-like pictures, like holding the dead child in their arms, kept growing.

victorian era post-mortem photography

Then, photos started to emerge of one or more family members standing or sitting next to the deceased.

To achieve an even more life-like appearance, photographers went to extra lengths to paint open eyes on the closed eyelids. Or they just propped the eyelids open. Which gave the deceased a rather sleepy look, as you can see in the photo below.

For life-like photos of the deceased children, often toys were added and the child propped to pose with the parents. In the photo below the open eyes were painted on top of the closed lids, which gives the child a wide-eyed look.

More services are added

With the competition growing, photographers needed to offer even more macabre services to the Victorian era post-mortem photography. They began to add special stands to prop up the bodies into a standing position. With belts tied around the chest and waist the bodies were secured to the stand.

The belts and the stand were well hidden and nearly undetectable under the women’s dresses of that era.

Photos of men and children, on the other hand, give you a glimpse of the stand behind their feet.

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Being able to strap the deceased into a standing position also gave a great opportunity to pose them in a group photo. Like the one taken of all siblings together.

victorian era post-mortem photography

Let’s have one more look at the hand-painted eyes on the closed eyelids. The widow is sitting next to her deceased husband for one last memory.

victorian era post-mortem photography

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