The idea of photographing the dead is as old as photography itself. For the most part, early death photographs were commissioned or taken by relatives of the deceased and preserved in the home as part of the family photograph collection. Once thought inappropriate and macabre, today these photographs are considered beneficial in dealing with bereavement.
Photography and Death reveals the beauty, meaning and significance of images once dismissed as disturbing, perverted or grotesque by placing them within the context of changing cultural attitudes towards death and loss. Excluding images of death through war, violence or natural disasters, Audrey Linkman concentrates on photographs of natural death within the family. She identifies the range of death-related photographs that were produced in both Europe and North America, and charts changes in their stylistic treatment through the decades. The author also examines how this subject is handled by contemporary art photographers.
Photography and Death will interest photographic, art and social historians as well as practitioners in the field of bereavement therapy, or those who seek to analyse the images of long-lost ancestors who gaze back from the pages of their family photograph albums.
‘In her short, quiet, humane book, Audrey Linkman explores the meaning of photographing the dead . . . It is a fascinating historical and cultural journey and one that seems to speak to the maturity of a society.’ – History Today
‘Death is something that we all fear but we all have to face. Linkman’s book provides us with ways to confront our alienation from this subject and come to terms with its consequences.’ – The Art Newspaper
‘a lucid and often arresting account of the history, materials, and practices that undergird this prominent conceptual affiliation. Filled with breathtaking details and beautifully reproduced nineteenth-century images, Linkman unfolds in exhaustive (but never exhausting) detail the material relationship that took hold in photographic practice almost immediately after the emergence of the technology in 1839. The need to remember those who have passed away, often the young (in an age of high childhood mortality), is described in moving prose that avoids becoming overly sentimental . . . Photography and Death, like other books in the “Exposures” series, is handsomely produced, with more than a hundred high-quality illustrations. It is as beautifully written as it is designed, and in its accessibility it will appeal to the general reader with an interest in nineteenth-century subjects, as well as to the student or scholar of nineteenth-century culture, of the history of mourning, and of photography.’ – Journal of Victorian Studies
‘Inevitably, as Linkman’s fascinating, informative and accessible text explores, the enthusiasm for this kind of photography, or lack of it, in different eras, and our changing responses over time, tell us much about social mores . . . All these issues, and those surrounding images of mourning the dead, are explored here with great sensitivity, along with authoritative historical and technical knowledge . . . a profound and unique piece of social history which anyone with an interest in the visual arts would learn from.’ – Your Family Tree
‘This rather morbid sounding book is actually a very informative guide to changing perceptions of death and the traditions surrounding it thoughout history . . . A fascinating social history that will help family historians to better understand images of their forebears.’ – Family History Monthly
Audrey Linkman is Visual Resources Manager at the Arts Faculty, The Open University. She specializes in the social history of nineteenth-century British photography and is the author of The Victorians: Photographic Portraits (1993).