Friday, September 10, 2010

“Memento Mori: The Birth and Resurrection of Postmortem Photography,” Merchant's House Museum with the Burns Archive, New York, Through November 29th



The New York Times blog just ran a brief story on a new exhibit I have been dying (sic) to see: “Memento Mori: The Birth and Resurrection of Postmortem Photography,” an exhibition exploring memorial photography then and now, curated in a collaboration between Eva Ulz and the incomparable Burns Archive of New York.

The exhibition--on view at the Merchant's House Museum in lower Manhattan until November 29th--features a collection of antique memorial photography drawn from the incredible Burns Archive curated alongside similarly-themed photographs by contemporary artists such as Joel-Peter Witkin, Sally Mann, Hal Hirshorn, Marian St. Laurent and Sarah Lohman. This intriguing looking exhibition takes as its theme the role of post-mortem photographs at different cultural moments.

As the article explains:
“People dealt with death differently in the 19th century,” says Eva Ulz, the curator of “Memento Mori: The Birth and Resurrection of Postmortem Photography” at the Merchant’s House Museum. “People looked forward to a reunion in heaven. Creating portraits was considered a precursor to that heavenly reunion. They shouldn’t be thought of as creepy.”

As much as it is about religious belief, the show — which was organized in conjunction with the Burns Archive and includes some 145 postmortem images and ephemera taken between the 1840s and the early 1900s — takes as its main subject the role of photography in everyday life, then and now. As the 20th century began to unfold and photography became much more common, Ulz says, postmortem images were sapped of their ritualistic importance.

To help put that shift in context, Ulz asked five contemporary shooters, including Sally Mann, Joel-Peter Witkin, Hal Shirshorn and Sarah Lohman, to contribute their own take on the postmortem photograph. The photographer Marian St. Laurent, who created an actual coffin called “Our Darling: A Memorial of Photography,” sees the exhibit as “a remembrance of photo negatives in the digital age. As we push the limits of advanced seeing in technology, we’ve never been more blind to the power of images.”

Ulz hopes “Momento Mori” will create in viewers a deeper understanding of their relationship with photography today. “I hope they get an idea of where they and their images fit in the cycle of life,” she says. “If you had to choose, which one picture would you want to represent you for all eternity?”
The show--which celebrates the publication of the Burns Archives’ latest book Sleeping Beauty III Memorial Photography: The Children--is on view at the Merchant's House Museum until November 29; you can find out more about the exhibition by clicking here. You can find out more about the new book Sleeping Beauty III Memorial Photography: The Children--which joins its predecessors Sleeping Beauty I and II--by clicking here. To find out more about The Burns Archive, click here; to check out its new and wonderful blog, click here. You can read this NY Times Blog post in its entirety by clicking here.

Thanks to Jim Edmonson of the Dittrick Museum for drawing my attention to this article!

All images from Sleeping Beauty III Memorial Photography the Children/Stanley B. Burns, MD, as found on the article website.

6 comments:

Sophia Walker said...

This is very interesting stuff. It of course reminds me of the photographs that used to be taken of dead children, often posed as if they were still alive. The sense of the permanence of photography was so much more real back then and photographs held so much more meaning than they do now. Thanks for posting this story.

tracy said...

The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia had a similar exhibit years ago, complete with hair jewerly and the like...one of their journals, "Women in Mourning" was dedicated to it. It was an excellent, touching exhibit, as this one looks to be...

Louis said...

Your site is amazing.I am very impressed to see this,i want to come back for visiting your site.Keep doing Good as well as you can..

Anonymous said...

I like your site, but I'm not sure you're using the word interstices correctly - maybe you mean the intersections of art and medicine, death and culture?

JAN BRADEL said...

There's a trend sprouting here and there to photograph post-mortem in "activity shots". I've seen some truly depressing death diorama's online. But part of me is fascinated by it...

Brad Fallon said...

Very haunting images - it's almost as if it's an unemotional approach to a very emotional subject. Very haunting.