Photographing the dead is rooted in photographic history, although often left out of traditional academic scholarship. Serving as a memorial to the deceased and a mnemonic object for the living, the postmortem photograph was an accepted part of Victorian culture and daily life in the early-to-mid 19th century. Moving forward to 1861, this year marked the beginning of the Civil War, which would create a challenging environment for how the dead were dealt with and handled. Generally seen as distinctly separate moments history, I hope to explore the crucial relationship between the bodies of the Civil War dead, social and medical successes in embalming and the evolution of postmortem photographic practices in relation to this. With wet plate processes in photography relying on specific methods of photographic science to produce images as well as the medical and scientific approaches to embalming, I hope to highlight the chemical interventions on the body as a means of memorial and preservation.
This piece was originally written for the 2013 Cultural Studies Association conference, held at Columbia College in Chicago. It was presented on The Manipulated Dead panel, a part of the Culture and War division. If you are interested in reading the rest of the piece, please contact me.
Index image: Bodies of dead Federal soldiers on the field of the first days battle. 1863.