In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Victorians were known for taking photographs of their deceased loved ones. Memorial photography, or post mortem photography, was born out of a time where epidemics were prevalent throughout society and the world. Death, and dealing with death, prompted people to find outlets and ways. One such creative tool was photography. The images were not associated with war, crime or violence. Families in grieving would commission photographers as part of the grieving process. Not only was it a coping device, but memorial photographs would be kept as precious possession. Small ones would be contained within lockets or carried around on the person as a reminder and for intimacy.
Post mortem photographs tended to be either close-ups of the face or show the full body of the person, portrayed in a manner that was lifelike. Usually, the person was positioned as though they were napping. Children would be captured in a crib, with a favourite toy or a family member (normally the mother) on set. As society started to become more and more distant from death, the styles of memorialisation through photography evolved. Later photographs revealed the subject to be inside a coffin. The use of flowers was common, especially calla lilies and forget-me-nots. Through the late Victorians, death became reinterpreted into a restful slumber. This beautification of death is something no longer seen in the society of today. Death has become a subject that is not spoken about. Should you show someone a picture from the Victorian era of memorialisation, they might be put off and find the idea very morbid. People of the late nineteenth-century knew how to respond to post mortem photography. Nowadays, it is not the cultural norm to confront the reality of death.
On the whole, the history of memorial photography brings to light a creative way to cope with loss and bereavement. For most parents, they cherish having that one still image of their child. For some people, these pieces reflect something about life and mortality. There is something to be learned from how the Victorians commemorated the deceased. In blunting the sharpness of grief, they were able to process their emotions and experiences through artistic outlets. When one thinks of a loved one who has already moved on, one would wish to remember them in a positive light. For instance, a memory that showcased the deceased at their best, when they were living at their prime.
In a similar vein, one could apply that philosophy towards modern grieving processes. Remembrance of the dead should not be something that is bottled up and seen as shameful. Everyone goes through the agony of losing a loved one and yearns to cherish the memories shared. It is necessary to confront one’s sorrow and hurt over loss, rather than invalidate and suppress it.
At Embrace Funeral Services, we help families in grief with the arrangement and execution of funeral services in Singapore. Give your loved ones a proper farewell with us.