TRIGGER WARNING:  This post discusses Victorian-era portraiture of the deceased and includes examples of the same.  I have chosen to use only attractive photos of deceased adults, but please proceed with caution if you are in the least triggered by anything that might be included or discussed herein.


Victorian memento mori photograph

On Page Three of The Ledger, Francis writes:

Do you know about this weird victorian xxx of xxx picture of dead love ones with live relatives.  … The pictures of those dead, well dressed ladies with siblings or with xxx unique xxx.  What was the intention behind these photos?  I understand because I am who I am but xxx.  That they thought it was something to be done.  Why are they now so in arms with what you did xxx was ok to take pictures of dead bodies to put in your apartment.  To frame them and xxx ok?  Who decides it is ok or not.

Dolarhyde is writing about the tradition of memento mori photography.  A practice that holds significance not only for the Victorians but also for Francis.

Photo Portraits

The first selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839 – this selfie is commonly referred to as the first photograph portrait.  Though photographic technology existed as early as 1816, portrait photography would not become popular until the mid-1800s.  While photography remained expensive throughout the Victorian era, it was certainly more practical, quicker, and more convenient than portrait paintings.

Photography was also less expensive than travel: If you lived with your husband and five children in Minnesota and your sister got married in California, you were more likely to receive a photograph of the couple than you were to pack up your brood and travel.

Memento Mori

In the 19th and early 20th century, the idea of capturing an image for posterity extended beyond the portraiture of the living.  Memento mori (literally, “remember you must die”) photography – post-mortem portraiture – became a way to preserve the memory of a loved one.  A way to keep them forever vibrant and beautiful.

Some memento mori photos were the only way to share the image of a loved one with those too far to travel.  By the same logic, post-mortem photography was also used by bounty hunters as evidence of their work in order to receive payment – rather than transporting the body cross-country.   And, heartbreakingly, as infant mortality was high during the period, much of memento mori  photography depicts deceased children and remains the only memory of a life that wasn’t to be lived.

Dolarhyde’s Memento Mori

The camera was steady now, on a tripod.  They were all dead now.  Arranged.  Two children seated against the wall facing the bed, one seated across the corner from them facing the camera.

Red Dragon

In the same way the Victorians had their memento mori of the dead, Dolarhyde has his.  Granted, his version of the tradition is motion picture, but the purpose is the same: to memorialize the dead in a manner that that befits a loved one, with the purpose of keeping the beloved vibrant and beautiful.  To keep a memory alive.

Sources and further reading: