I am always interested in information and facts – I am a social scientist after all – and when science and/or fact intersects with death and dying/death practices, I am particularly interested. Add art and culture to the mix, you have me captivated.
According to Sonya Vatomsky there is a good deal of myth and misinformation surrounding the Victorian-era practice of photographing family members after death, and her article focuses on the use of posing stands in photographing the living, not as props for the deceased.
Photography is always about ‘time’ – we photograph so casually and ubiquitously now in our own culture, we capture “The Moment” without a thought for the technology behind image generation – and time used to be the essence of early photography in that the person or scene being photographed needed to be very still for a set period of time. The time required in early photographic methods could be over half an hour (not a problem when you are a mountain range, more of an issue when you are a human who wants to stretch your limbs) of non-movement to avoid blurring the image. Posing stands were used to aid the living in holding still, not to support a body post-mortem, and may have been in place for perhaps a minute and a half of perfect posing for an image that preserved a memory for your life.
Vatomsky’s tip for Victorian photography viewing? If a person looks alive they probably are.