INTRODUCTION

Under our class rubric of the “dead and undead,” I chose to do my final research project on the dead. Specifically, I chose to focus my project on post-mortem photography. Inspired by our readings from Secure the Shadow, my close reading of a cultural artifact assignment for class, and a strange facebook ad suggesting that I may be interested in an organization called “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep,” I became interested in Ruby’s assertion about shifts in the style and format of post-mortem photographs.

 

I wanted to find out if growing acceptance of neo-natal remembrance photography and technology of sharing these photos was changing the way that Americans dealt with death, and changing some of the public acceptance of open grieving.

 

To answer this question I focused on one large organization that provides neo-natal remembrance photography called “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.” The organization has an exceptionally open and detailed website and I was able to learn a lot about their origins, the role of neo-natal remembrance photography in the parents’s grieving process, and their volunteer recruitment process. I was able to confirm a changing acceptance of grief and death in the text of their website, though that seemed more of a foregone conclusion. For external responses to this new type of post-mortem photography I turned to large online media news outlets. I found numerous articles empathetically discussing families who have needed neo-natal remembrance services and almost across-the-board the pieces were respectful and kind.

 

 

I was concerned initially about how to present my research in a respectful way, since so many of these photos are upsetting and disturbing. What I found, in fact, was very few photos that made me uncomfortable and as I began to look at them more they began to feel like very beautiful and meaningful photos. They began to fall into a category of looking and feeling like photos of sleeping infants. Interestingly, the photos I was most uncomfortable looking at were those in which the adults are showing extreme emotion (an example of what I mean by this can in the third photo of this essay). With that shift in my own perception of the photos I chose to use wix.com to create a website that would allow me to contrast some of the Victorian photos with the modern ones, and that would allow me to guide the reader through a series of short essays exploring remembrance photography and media response to the practice. I chose wix over wordpress or blogspot because I wanted some creative license to build a somber but still pretty container for these essays. It felt almost like creating a beautiful scrapbook of these photos, and felt like a way to honor these infants lives while still considering them with some academic reserve.

 

If I had had more time for this project I would have liked to expand into other organizations and individuals who provide remembrance photography. I found a number of other organizations providing this type of service (one called Soulumination, for example, that serves families with children under 18 who are facing life-threatening illnesses [2]) but chose to focus my study on just one of them to narrow my data slightly. With more time I could compare the different language used on sites, and the different ways they discuss infant death.

 

With more time I would have liked to compare the stylistic changes between Victorian photos and modern photos (granted, there have been so many changes in both photographic equipment, technique, and style). The modern photos feel like they reference modern contemporary baby photography like those below, and it would be interesting to look at the shifts in the artistic style of these volunteer photographers.

Photo from The Strangest Tradition of the Victorian Era: Post-Mortem Photography. [1]

All of these photos are of living infants from a simple google image search on "baby photography." It is interesting to contrast them stylistically to the two of the modern photos on the homepage and one on the Modern Era page from NILMDTS's guide to posing.