Memento Mori (Latin for "Remember thy Death") p.4

Absent Dear Ones

In addition to post mortem and spirit photographs there were other ways to remember and even give the illusion that departed or absent loved ones were still with the family.

The most direct approach was for one of the family to hold a photograph of the "dear departed" member.

A variation in our collection is the daguerreotype below of mother and daughter. The mother holds a round, framed silhouette of a man. It seems likely that it is a picture of the husband/father for whom they have no other portrait. In the 1/4 plate daguerreotype below a boy holds an open daguerreotype of a man on the table beside him. The reflective quality of the daguerreotype plate and the small size do not let us see any detail on the man's image. It seems likely that this is a precious artifact that the family knows well.

Multiple exposure, multiple printing, and collaged photographs were also used long before digital imaging and Photoshop made manipulation of time and place simple.

Several examples are shown below.

Part of our fascination with photographs from the past is speculation on the relationships of people in group photographs. On the right is a family group by Palmer of Waupaca, Wisconsin of two women, a child, and an old man. A vignette of an older woman is printed into the group beside the man. Is this four generations of a family; father, his daughter, his daughter's daughter, and his daughter's daughter's child? Is the woman in the vignette his departed wife?

We can never know but we can imagine.

In the row below is a black mounted cabinet card from the early 20th century. We have several other cards of this family made at the same studio setting. They show different member in several combination but all of them show the exact same image of the man with a moustache. These are rather skillful multiple images and with a little more attention to head size and direction of light we could have been convinced that "Grandpa" was really there with the rest of the family. Perhaps the photographer thought it would be too disturbing if the manipulation was not obvious.

Our first impression of this group photograph of 13 people from the turn of the last century was the incongruity of the second man from the right in the middle row. On closer examination we notice that the man on the left end of the second row also does not match the size and lighting of the others.

We have no way of knowing if the pair were away from home when this important group photograph was made or if their absence was of a more final nature.

Memento Mori p.1: Daguerreotype, Ambrotype, and Tintype
Memento Mori p.2: More Post Mortem and Memorial Photographs
Memento Mori p.3: Memorial Objects with Photographs
Memento Mori p.4: Absent Dear Ones * You are here

Related interests of the Victorian Era in our collection:
Spirit Photography - The photography of ghosts and spirits
Mesmerism - "Flint the Mesmerist"
Phrenology - The study of human personality from the shape of the head


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Updated on 11/2005