Today’s culture is one of everlasting youth and denial of mortality. For us, postmortem photography may seem distasteful and unsettling. The Victorians, however, were no strangers to death- and death among the very young was an every day occurence.
The Victorian parlor became the memorial space to display mementoes of every single life, no matter how brief, and great love and care went into arranging the deceased as beautifully as could be done for these photographs. Many appear to be merely sleeping peacefully. Photographs of children and infants were particularly heart-wrenching, as some grieving mothers tenderly held their little ones for the first and last time in these images.
These cabinet photographs were framed and displayed on mantels and parlor tables throughout the years, just as if the images recorded there were still part of the family. Smaller portraits were given out to mourning family members to be worn in lockets, often with a curl of hair. Hair jewelry became an art form of intricate workmanship by loving hands which has never seen an equal since the nineteenth century.
The Dead were gone- but never forgotten in the hearts of their families. Every life mattered very much, and its loss felt and remembered forever.