Reader contribution: Dead or Not?

victorian post mortem photography skull illusion carole kington mother child2

This was sent to me by Carole K, a reader in the US. She spotted this image in a collage on the wall of a local antique mall, and has long been intrigued by it.

We both agree that the baby is alive – the eyes are ‘looking’ and the hand is being held up to the face with some level of muscle control – but what about the mother?

My instinct is that Mum is alive – to me, she appears to be looking down affectionately on the baby. But, as Carole rightly points out, this is quite an old photo (the other images in the collage date – as far as can be ascertained – from the early 1900′s) and it wouldn’t have been as normal back then to take pictures of mother and baby straight after birth.

To give some perspective, here’s the pic taken from more of a distance:

victorian post mortem photography skull illusion carole kington mother child1

So what do we think, people – dead or not?

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4 Responses to Reader contribution: Dead or Not?

  1. Dixie says:

    It does seem odd that the mother is not shown holding the baby. Also the way that both the mother and baby are completely covered by blankets seems odd. I am not sure.

  2. Violet says:

    It is certainly strange, mostly because it would be a very unusual set up for a photograph of the era. Of course, this assumes that the photo in question is roughly the same age as the others in the collection – there is a possibility that it’s more recent, when this type of naturalistic photography was becoming more common.

  3. Frances Rose says:

    I am not sure about this one, baby is definately alive, mum could be very, very recently deceased. but then, I am sure the practice of taking a photo right after birth to immortalize the moment is just as common as post mortem pics to be honest. Children had very short lives and often did not make it out of infancy.

  4. Dixie says:

    I do agree with Violet, this is an unusual setting for a photograph from that time. The fact that many infants died from being “over laid” by their mothers is easy to understand when you look at this photo!

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