By Bill Cunningham, Polly Cunningham
Over 20 hikes in California.
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Extra resources for Best Easy Day Hikes Death Valley National Park
In comparison, photographers, as we shall presently see, offered a much more imperfect-even shoddy-illusion, that is, the pretense that the person was merely sleeping rather than dead. At best, postmortem photographs constitute a failed attempt at trompe 1' oeil which fooled no one. Their function was not to keep the dead alive but to enable mourners to acknowledge their loss. Some photographers and painters were aware of the others' existence and actually cooperated. The journal of William Sidney Mount, a rural American painter, provides us with evidence that posthumous mourning paintings were sometimes painted from a daguerreotype rather than directly from a corpse.
According to Alfred Frankenstein, in his study of the American painter William Sidney Mount, Painting portraits ofthe dead and especially ofdead children was part ofevery artist's stock in trade in nineteenth century America. Mount repeatedly painted such portraits, but he seldom did so without recording a protest against the practice. Thus, in his catalogue for the year 1846, he makes the following entry: "Portrait ofRev. Charles Seabury, painted after death ftom memory for his son Rev. Samuel Seabury D.
Some examples of privately produced nineteenth-century corpse photographs have become public and accessible as part of the general transformation of old photographs into commodities in the art market and as collectibles in flea markets, as can be seen in Sleeping Beauties (Burns 1990), a book based largely on one person's private collection. As people buy, sell, and collect the family photographs of other people, the images lose their original purpose and meaning and become objects of aesthetic contemplation, or curiosities.