The Thanatos Archive - Victorian Post Mortem and Memorial Photography

I know very little about Victorian mourning practices except for things like mourning jewellery and the wearing of certain clothes. I stumbled upon the Thanatos Archive, and now I am haunted by these images. I'm interested in how we grieve and mourn through time and space, how practices change and vary across cultures. Maybe this stems from own lack of any kind of mourning rituals. Maybe I need to create these rituals for myself.


















I'm intrigued by this need to photograph the dead. The above photos remind of the film "Everlasting Moments." In it, a Swedish woman at the turn of the 20th century takes photographs of dead children for their parents.



We have this need for the physicality of those we've lost--we keep their clothes, we try to preserve their scent, some even keep a lock of hair or take a photo of the deceased. For me, grief is always rooted in the body, in the fact that I will never touch my father again, never be held by him or hear his voice. I feel his absence not just emotionally but within the physical space around me. My pain is intensified when I think of the natural processes his body has gone through after death. He is bones. I know that's harsh or morbid to say but it's the truth and I can't comprehend it. I rarely go to the cemetery where he is buried. How can he be below the ground? How? I can't cope with it.

The photos above preserve the body, they capture it before decay and decomposition begin. That's how we always want to remember the dead. But I still find myself haunted by the corpse--the horror of seeing it, the anguish it still causes me. It's the one thing I wish I could forget, could un-see. If only it were possible.