Post Mortem Photography became a popular tool to remember those who had passed on. Loved ones were often photographed in coffins or posed to look as if they were merely sleeping so that photographers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s could provide family members something to hold onto during mourning periods. As photography became more popular and financially feasible, the lower classes were able to take advantage of the new found medium. In Beyond The Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive, readers are treated to not only the fascinating history of this oft morbid art, but also to descriptions of the history behind it.
Beyond the Dark Veil is an absolutely gorgeous book production wise. With an embossed black cover with faux gold filigree, the book looks more like an old photo album from the 1900’s. The pages are all high quality paper with well printed images and well laid out portraiture. Though gathered and assembled by the curator of The Thanatos Archive, each passage is written by a different author, so the writing style in the book goes from passages that appear to be the work of a textbook to passages with a more conversational style. If you don’t like a section, skip a few pages and you’ll find a style that fits. What truly makes the collection is the photography from The Thanatos Archive itself. Each image is accompanied with a brief description, and more often than not a brief idea of what to be looking for in each picture. The book gives explanations of grave imagery and different styles of photography.
While I don’t recommend Beyond the Dark Veil for the squeamish, it is a deeply fascinating book for those interested in the history of mortuary culture, photography and memento mori items. The book does include images of deceased children and animals, but all are placed with a deep respect for both the human being pictured and the difficult nature of mourning.
Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photography from the Thanatos Archive is now available from Grand Central Press and Last Gasp Publishing.