The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 opened new doors for people who wanted to capture their happiest memories—and hardest goodbyes. Grieving families soon took up the new technology to create everlasting mementos of the dearly departed.
Known as post-mortem photography, these haunting shots where produced shortly after passing. They featured the deceased dressed in fancy attire, surrounded by loved ones or flower wreaths. Some corpses were even propped up with painted eyelids to appear alive.
Death struck frequently in the 19th century—especially when it came to the young. These visual keepsakes were often the only photographs of the departed that family and friends ever owned.
While the tradition faded by the turn of the 20th century, certain corners of the world continue to photograph their dead. Numerous books about post-mortem photography—including the recent book, Beyond the Dark Veil, from Seattle photography archive Thanatos Archive—prove that fascination with the subject is alive and well.
Scroll through extraordinary post-mortem photography from the Victorian era.
Portrait of a young woman, circa 1860
A post-mortem portrait of a young woman at her home.
Portrait of a Victorian family, circa 1850
A post-mortem portrait of a mother and father with their recently deceased daughter. Compare the blurred faces of the parents with the stillness of the girl.
Portrait of a woman, circa 1900
A post-mortem portrait of a woman at rest in her bed.
Portrait of an infant, circa 1885
A post-mortem portrait of an infant, dressed lovingly in christening robes and placed in a baby buggy.
Portrait of a deceased man, circa 1860
A post-mortem portrait of a middle-aged man, his eyelids colored and body arranged upon a chair to appear life-like.
Portrait of an infant, circa 1850
A post-mortem portrait of an infant, housed in a decorative tin. The advent of reproducible photography allowed family members to distribute their mourning photos amongst loved ones.
Portrait of a young boy, circa 1850
A post-mortem portrait of a young boy, surrounded by flowers.
Portrait of an infant, circa 1860
A post-mortem portrait of an infant boy, his body arranged upon a chair to appear life-like.
Portrait of a bishop, circa 1945
A modern-day post-mortem portrait of a bishop from Syria, dressed in ceremonial robes.