Archive for September 19th, 2011


memento mori 2

Admittedly, the death of a dog is not equivalent to the loss of a child or other family member. Yet it does present a similar challenge to integrate the reality of death into a life that, in its totality, is hopefully creative and life-affirming. Somehow we must all live on after loss and eventually deal with our own mortality in positive ways.  

Memento mori is a Latin phrase which translates as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die” or “Remember you will die.” The phrase has a tradition in art, dating back to antiquity, identifying a genre of artistic work which reminds people of our inevitable earthly fates.

In the relatively modern art form of photography, memento mori often refers to a peculiar Victorian practice, originated in the earliest years of photography, of postmortem portraiture. The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made portraiture—once only available to those rich enough to commission a painted portrait—available to people of middle class means. Moreover, with the extremely high childhood mortality rates of the age, a postmortem photograph might be the only image a family could ever have as a keepsake of a lost infant or child.

This practice impresses contemporary sensibilities as macabre. It eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and waned as “snapshot” photography became more commonplace with the introduction of the Kodak camera. Yet response to my July 30th post about mummies, “I See… Dead People,” has been so unexpectedly strong, I cannot resist the impulse to once again pander to people’s morbid curiosities.

However, I do think viewing these images can serve a higher purpose than merely satisfying our gratuitous and arguably voyeuristic urges. They remind us of the pervasive fact of life that without dark and loss, we cannot fully appreciate and optimize the light and love that life has to offer.












Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Cure performing “Pictures of You”