Friday, November 6, 2009

Unsettling Old Photos of the “Living” Dead

Well, I just found something creepier. A lot creepier. It’s a sub-genre of the Victorian mourning portrait, in which photographers clamp and pose the dearly departed in such a way that they look fully awake — usually standing up, eyes either held open by some unknown mechanism (shudder) or with pupils painted over closed eyes, to very, very creepy effect. (There’s nothing lose-your-lunch gross about these — this ain’t, after all — they’re just deeply unsettling.)

There’s something just unspeakably creepy about this fireman. At first glance, he looks like a normal, awkwardly-posed guy from the 19th century. But upon closer inspection, you notice a few tell-tale signs: a rigid pose and fingers, a stand not quite completely hidden behind his feet, which is holding him up by some unseen armature on his back, liberal amounts of rouge applied to too-white cheeks, and those blank, blank eyes.

If that wasn’t horrific enough for you, try this one on for size:

The girl’s rigid hands and painted-on pupils — not to mention the edge of a stand behind her left leg — give it away. The owner of the photograph adds:

If you look closely you can see a base behind the girls feet and a post would go up from that with clamps at the waist and neck and the clothing would be open at the back. The arms would have stiff wires running at the back to hold them in place. Also notice the strange placement of the hands. The pupils are painted on the closed eyelids.

The jury is out on the girl above, but I think this might well be a post mortem photo. (There are lots of “maybe” post-mortem photos on the net, because you can’t always tell.) The eBay auctioneer who’s selling this makes a few compelling speculations:

I was told by somebody who collects these that this is a post-mortem (death) photo of a girl who was posed standing up with different props. There is a stand behind her which can be seen right behind her feet. Also, there is a second draped prop positioned against her hip. It also appears there is some sort of brace beneath her dress. She appears stiff and her whole body leans backwards slightly.

Oy. This one is horrible for many reasons, not least of which being the distinct possibility that both father and son are dead in this picture. (Why are his hand and face discolored?)

This one is just plain weird, but the telltale signs of rigid limbs and awkward pose — and the need for a pillow to hold up the head — seem to indicate that this is post-mortem.

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