Death portraits of infants

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Ross Chambers, Jul 14, 2010.

  1. Ross Chambers

    Ross Chambers Member

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  2. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Comes across to me as being an excellent way of confronting personal and emotional loss and the search for redemption. More powerfully, the project serves as a perpetual memory that for many people can be difficult, if not impossible, to move on from. But move on is something you must do. Very inspiring reading which would no doubt require a skilled, sensitive and empathic photographer who knows how to bring together the beauty of life and the tragedy of death in the one frame.
     
  3. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    It's not a new thing, tintype death portraits of infants are common.

    If the photographer has the skill to pull it off, why not? If it helps the parents through a very difficult situation, it's a good thing.
     
  4. TSSPro

    TSSPro Member

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    NILMDTS (I think I got that one right...) is a great organization. I've known some photographers that have worked with them and it is a great way for a photographer to give back to the community and create tasteful photographs durring a time of stress and grief.
     
  5. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Agreed... it may not be for everyone, but it seems when a family loses an infant, there can be almost nothing left to remind the grieving parents of their existence, of this infant that may have been part of a family for a few days... especially if the infant lived only a short time in the ICU. Seems to me a photograph can be an important keepsake, and reminder.
     
  6. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    At first it seem to be detestable to think about it, but after looking through the pictures now I change my mind.

    Jeff
     
  7. railwayman3

    railwayman3 Member

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    Similar photos of infants (and, to a lesser extent, even of adults) were not unusual in Victorian times. They may seem rather strange to present-day sensitivities, but times and circumstances were very different then, and if the pictures helped in grieving.......
     
  8. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    I was an early volunteer photographer for NILMDTS.

    Some folks go through this experience. NILMDTS is an organization to provide photographs, free of charge, to the families as a way to remember their loved little one(s). One of the founders (Cheryl) had this happen and hooked up with Sandy Puc and together founded NILMDTS.

    Here are a couple of places to check out, if you're interested:

    http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/

    Please play this video:

    http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/about_us/
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 14, 2010
  9. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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    During my 25 years on Labour and delivery we always arranged a little nest of blankets and took a polaroid of a stillborn baby. Later we would offer it to the mother, I don't rmember a single mom who was not grateful for the effort.
    I stopped doing OB 15 years ago. No more polaroids just digi now.
     
  10. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    Moments before getting on the internet, I read our local paper. On page two of the paper is an obituary for Faith Linda Bateman. Faith was born Monday. A photo accompanies the obituary. I have known Faith's mother, Christina, for years. She is the daughter of friends classmate of my daughter. It was discovered during the pregnancy that the child had a condition that would be fatal shortly after birth. Christina continued with the pregnancy, knowing that her baby would die shortly after birth.

    I cannot imagine all that Christina and her family went through and continue to go through. But, I know their strong religious beliefs, their extended family and community have been a comfort.

    We take and look at photographs for a myriad of reasons. I cannot think of reasons much better than to remember a loved one, no matter how short their life, and to provide comfort, support and closure to the grieving.
     
  11. eclarke

    eclarke Member

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    It doesn't have to be an infant. My little sister/closest friend/only living relative died at age 42 and I have almost zero photographs of her, I think it's what started making me photograph..Evan Clarke
     
  12. Leighgion

    Leighgion Member

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    Postmortem portraits, not just for infants, were once very common and popular.

    While I'm not studied on the topic, I suspect one reason at the time was that photographs were much less common so for most folk they'd have been photographed only a couple times, if at all in their lives. A death portrait would be the last opportunity to have any visual memory of the deceased.

    In modern times, most of us are being photographed constantly, but for an infant the same reasoning applies as in the old days. They've not had time to be photographed in life.
     
  13. nyoung

    nyoung Member

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    As the "professional" photographer in my family, I've fallen heir to many old pictures, envelopes of odd sized negatives etc. that no one can figure out what to do with. Among those treasures are several funeral portraits including one of an aunt who died in childbirth in about 1946 or 47. She is pictured as she was buried, holding her stillborn child in a single casket.

    My question is not why are people now making these kind of photos, but why did we apparently stop - at least at the hiring a studio photographer level - from the 1950s till now?
     
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  15. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Wow, that must be some of the most emotionally difficult work going. I admire those who can do it and keep themselves focussed on how it helps, but---especially as the parent of a small child myself---I don't think I could keep it together for very long while watching postmortem portraits of infants come up in the developing tray.

    -NT
     
  16. urbantarzan

    urbantarzan Member

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    My wife is a NNICU doctor, and she is fighting a battle locally to reinstate this right for parents through her parent support group S.O.S babies.
    According March of Dimes, infants and parents have many rights, including the right to photograph their child. Unfortunately, that right has been abused in the republic of Trinidad and Tobago, where parents of terminally ill/ dying babies take pictures, and go to the press, saying that the doctors are not treating their babies.."insert picture of baby with a million tubes and bandages".. and have sued the institutions and recieved millions of dollars in "compensation" *sic*. The ministry of health and hospital administration has stopped photographs altogether in the hospital, but the administration is slowly comming around to allowing photos again.
     
  17. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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    I've attended funerals in Romania and at least in the rural areas there's no such thing as undertakers - the family organises everything. But one thing that is always hired is a photographer to take a group photo of the mourners around the open coffin (which has sat open in the family home for some days). Every family photo album I've seen has these shots, old and new. Luckily, I've never been to a child's funeral, but I'm sure it's just the same.
     
  18. Anon Ymous

    Anon Ymous Member

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    Yes, I've seen at least one of this kind of photographs from Slovakia, shot by J. Koudelka.

    EDIT: This one
     
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  19. urbanvelocity

    urbanvelocity Member

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    Having just participated in the birth of our first child this past Saturday I can tell you I would have made one a final portrait. There was a fleeting thought during the labor where I actually thought about what I would do if... I decided I would, tears streaming down my face and glad I had auto-focus. Memorials, have a place in the progression through a death, and having a well executed visual reminder would be important.
     
  20. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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  21. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I think it's about closure. Having seen how the death of my youngest sister affected my parents, particularly my mother who was also her carer, I think his is an admiral project.

    Death brushed under the carpet is far worse. One of my Aunts lost her son, her only child, I lived my life being told never to mention my cousin who was just a year older than me and it was awkward. The other older cousins around his age always felt uneasy with my aunt, and we weren't invited to her Golden wedding 40+ years later, but all our younger siblings were.

    There was an upside to this, three years ago with a younger cousin we where going through family photo's from the late 50's, my Aunt pointed out her son, my cousin then told her when & where the image had been made which was a year after her sons death. The awkwardness lifted slightly.

    The next day out of the blue my Aunt apologised for the way she'd treated us.

    I think mothers in particular would appreciate this kind of closure.

    Ian
     
  22. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    I have actually heard the reason why so many death portraits were made well over 100 years ago: since it took over 15 minutes to expose film material back then, death portraits of people were almost the only way to get sharp pictures of people.

    @ntenny: exactly my thoughts. Props to those who can do it, but as a parent of 2 toddlers this kind of work would emotionally destroy me.
     
  23. AmsterdamMartin

    AmsterdamMartin Member

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    The phenomenon is as old as photography, and before: as long as there have been humans.
    Very good that taboos have been overcome again, to support the families.
    By being open and natural towards death, society prevents perversions like paparazzi photographing traffic accidents etc.
     
  24. j-dogg

    j-dogg Subscriber

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    I almost ended up being one of those babies :sad:
     
  25. archer

    archer Member

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    The largest commission I ever received was for the portrait of the Patriarch of a very prominent Italian family just outside Rome and I wasn't informed that he was dead until I arrived at the family Villa and was told that he could be found in the family chapel in his casket. It seems that in certain parts of the world, a death portrait has replaced or, sometimes, been an important addition to a death mask. While it was very difficult for me, I treated it as a portrait session but this was a very old man. I don't think I could have been as emotionally detached if the subject was a child. I still don't know quite how to think of this type of portraiture but I suppose for some people it gives them comfort. I don't think I could do this for a living though.
    Denise Libby
     
  26. Andrew K

    Andrew K Subscriber

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    When I ran a black and white lab in the late 90's I would occasionally be asked to print a roll or 2 of film (usually black and white) of stillborn babies for a local hospital. It was always an emotional experience - the photographs were often beautifully posed, with the parents holding the child in their hand-the child dressed in a tiny (dolls?) outfit...

    Sometimes the photos were a record photograph of a very premature child that was barely recognisable - these photographs were not for a medical record, but were taken so that at some point in the future the parents, during their greiving process, would have some sort of photograph of their child (I can still remember, over 15 years later, a photograph of a childs hand, tiny, and not perfectly formed, coming out from under a piece of cloth - the onlt recognisable part of the child that would not be too terrifying for a person to see)

    I also have friend in Canberra who volunteers for an organization that photographs sick/prem/deceased children in hospitals. It is not a job I could do now due to the many things I have seen in my life, but it is something I appreciate and admire....

    These are photographs no parent wants to see. They may not want to see them ever, but if they do they do help with closure...

    Historically my understanding of death portraits was that they were taken to send "back home" to relatives who may not have seen the person for 10, 20 or more years.....plus there was the Victorian obscession with mourning - if no other photograph were available then this would do as a momento...

    Also - I've done a little wet plate/tintype photography - exposures were not in the 10-15 minute range - using an old camera of the period in daylight you are talking at most a 3-8 second exposure...by the late 1880's exposures in a studio were down to 1-3 seconds with wet plates based on contemporary accounts...