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deceased???--she's alive!!

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    Posted 5 years ago

    (176 items)

    This is a photograph of one of my ancestors. Back in the 70s I was helping dad sort old photos. This one looked to both of us as if the woman was dead. Recently I have read that back in the day family did take photographs of deceased relatives to remember them by as that may have been the only photograph ever taken of the deceased. I think dad and I were correct in assuming she was dead. At the time, we did not know that this was done. It seemed morbid. I guess I understand that this might be the only way to remember a loved one.

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    1. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      thanks to all...vetraio50, blunderbuss2, martika, brunswick and NevadaBlades!
    2. scottvez scottvez, 5 years ago

      Nothing that I see in the photo suggests that she is dead. Her eyes are open and there is no rigor in her hands.

      There are a lot of online myths about pm (post mortem) photography. Here is one of my postings on the posing stands-- supposedly used to support the dead in 19th century photography:

    3. PostCardCollector PostCardCollector, 5 years ago
      Oddly, To me as well, there is something here that suggests she is dead--or near dead...An even better time to snap a picture--perhaps she's had a stroke , or some other malady, seizures of some kind a with little time left??Perhaps nothing that could be done in those days. There is a mental condition where a person is totally unresponsive, but I can't recall the name of it.(usually from shock, wasn't it?) Poor thing! I hope she was not suffering.
    4. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      It is precisely the look of her eyes, (blank and glassy) and the positioning of her hands that makes me think this was taken post mortem. Also, her cheeks have been heavily rouged. I guess we shall never know. If she is living in the photo, I think she looks quite different than all the other photos I have of ancestors. thanks for your opinions and comments scottvez and PostCardCollector
    5. Gillian, 5 years ago
      Her head is not attached to her body. Her hands are strangely so much larger than they should be if you compare with the rest of her. Actually, I don't believe they are even her arms or her hands. I believe she is a composite of a few different photos - whether of her, or someone else.

      Yes, I've seen quite a few post mortem photos and the majority of them are quite believable, especially babies and young children.
    6. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      I grow more curious about this strange photo. If I recall correctly, a relative of dad's owned the framed photo. They sent dad a picture of the picture. You can see the outline of the frame in the picture. Gillian, the head does look detached. I have just looked into the family history given me by dad's cousin. He spent years researching and was kind enough to share his results. The woman in the picture is Emily Gnecht who is my great, great, great grandmother according to genealogy. Now, I wish I knew why her picture is so odd. Her head may appear detached because she wears a white collar.??.this is a picture of a picture and is grainy. Thanks scottvez. I read your post and now wonder if she was living in the picture and was using one of those leaning devices and that might explain why her head, body and hands don't seem to fit. . And thanks to you. Gillian. I appreciate the input.
    7. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Hi all ... I agree with Scott that this is definitely a picture of a living person. My comments about this image are about the confines of early photography technology that result in living people looking less than alive. As background, it's normal to see these types of deadpan looks in early photography because of limitations in the technology during the era this picture was taken.

      This image appears to be a re-photographed cased ambrotype (which is an image on a glass plate). The lines running across the body look like cracks in the glass. Looking carefully, you can see a slight shift in the edges of the upper hand and clothing which tells me that the image is on glass. Assuming it is an ambrotype, the picture dates to period when exposures were many seconds in duration. I suspect the original image was copied because it was deteriorating.

      Portraitists understood the constraints of photographic technology and knew it was very difficult for a sitter to hold still with a smile (or grin), which resulted in blurry images. In contrast, sitters could be motionless for the length of a multi-second exposure with a relaxed face (which takes on a serious, stony somewhat deceased look). As a rule, the further back in time an image was made, the more primitive the technology which meant longer exposures; i.e. 5+ seconds was the norm.

      By the mid-1880s, photographic chemistry advanced to the point that photographers could make "instantaneous" pictures. This means exposures were less than one second and sitters could be posed in relaxed, natural looking positions.

      In regards to the head, yes, there is a white collar around the neck but the poor exposure renders the collar barely visible making the head look detached. Additionally, the cheeks do have slightly darkened circles, as pointed out by mareredware; which means that the original image more than likely had color applied to the face. In post mortem photography, while uncommon there are images with tinted clothing and surroundings. Yet tinting a deceased person’s face is practically unknown during the time in which this image might have been taken.

      Finally ... about the hands looking out of proportion ... this is because a wider than normal lens was used on the camera. Normally, a portrait lens (mild telephoto) is used but for some reason the photographer used a lens that is not suited for portraiture.

      For those of you who care to learn more about the history of post mortem photography, I highly recommend the definitive book on this subject entitled “Sleeping Beauty. Memorial Photography in America” by Stanley B. Burns, M.D. Twelvetrees Press, 1990. It is a very informative, high quality publication with stunning reproductions of postmortem images dating from 1840 to 1930. (My copy is No. 142 and signed by the author.)
    8. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      rniederman!! thank you for the wealth of info. I am so pleased to get so much input from those of you who study and collect. So much has been brought to my attention and I have looked more closely myself.
      Note to all ..I have changed the title and thanks for all the loves!!
    9. PostCardCollector PostCardCollector, 5 years ago
      The word I was looking for (see above post) was "catatonic"Catatonia is a state of apparent unresponsiveness to external stimuli in a person who is apparently awake. There are 3 types: (1) catatonia associated with another mental disorder (catatonia specifier), (2) catatonic disorder due to another medical condition, and (3) unspecified catatonia.
      The very points that you specified Mereredeware, the glassy eye and the over--rouged cheeks--just look so off, and her rigidity. Also maybe she was scared out of her wits . It is a mystery-- and I as well have never seen anything like it. I have an ambro of two young kids, next to one another. The girl hasn't moved, her image is clear..The little boy and moved, image affected, and the rabbit in his lap has been moving so much I used to think it was a cat, til my grandson , with better eyes pointed out the long ears which had moved a lot. The little girl is quite prim and you can tell has restrained herself as long as it took.
      So I guess all the opinions here make a pretty good assessment and gathering of options of what could have been going on.
      I found your post and photo so fascinating it kept me up thinking about it. Now THAT is a first on this site.
      How wonderful you have this photo of a many times GREAT grandmother. I hope she got up out of the chair went home and baked a cherry pie!
    10. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      Funny thing..I have viewed this photo several times through the years and have never put as much thought into it as these past days! As stated before, this is a copy of the original and the the original is obviously very I have a grainy gray not too great picture here
      Wish I had the original! And I wish the story had been passed with the photo! Ah well, PostCardCollector, let's just believe she made that cherry pie!
    11. PostCardCollector PostCardCollector, 5 years ago
      Another observation--I don't think she is elderly.
      And what a sweet, adorable photo of you as a little girl in your heading photo. Communion, I think
      I wish a lot of CWfolk would put in their little kid photo. It would give me me a "I wanna hug 'em" feeling!
    12. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      Aw, thanks PostCard Collector!
    13. scottvez scottvez, 5 years ago
      "Finally ... about the hands looking out of proportion ... this is because a wider than normal lens was used on the camera. Normally, a portrait lens (mild telephoto) is used but for some reason the photographer used a lens that is not suited for portraiture."

      The angle of THIS photograph could have also distorted the appearance of the HANDS in the image. Ambrotypes are a little hard to photograph, being a negative on a glass plate. If your photo of this photo was taken with a camera (vice camera) a further distortion often appears.

      The rouge blob on her face is not uncommon in these early images.

      Also, I see no indication that this is a copy image-- believe the image itself is just a cracked ambrotype.


    14. scottvez scottvez, 5 years ago
      Original poster can clarify image type by adding a few additional photos that show the entire image.

    15. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Scott ... you read my mind. I was going to mention that the low angle of the portrait would add to the distortion of the hands. But a wide angle lens makes them overly prominent. FWIW, I have four (4) period dag / wet plate Petzval lenses and when mounted properly on cameras, they don't create the distortion seen here.
    16. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      This is why I am so impressed with CW. To my knowledge, this copy was made in the1970s. Whoever had the original or possibly a copy of the original sent a copy to my dad. I know the subjects name and relationship to me. I love the who and where. I know nothing of ambrotypes , lenses and wetplates! I do think her hands look odd in proportion to her body because of the angle the photo was taken. I am pretty convinced now that she was alive in the photo. And the reason I love CW...such diversity! There are those who simply appreciate a thing of interest or beauty sharing with those who actually investigate,compare and study such objects. And they all appear to benefit from their involvement. I know I do! Thanks
    17. scottvez scottvez, 5 years ago
      So the photo you have is a snapshot or modern print?

      As chris stated the original would have been an ambrotype, which puts it about 1854- 1865 in the US.

    18. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      I am going to read family history when I get home tonight and try to determine her age at that time. Thanks scott.
    19. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Hi mareredware ... you might not understand the technical details being discussed (which is okay) but, as an FYI, Scott is an image expert and I specialize in really early photographic equipment. Together we agree, based on our viewpoints, that this image is of a living person. As a byproduct of all this cool knowledge, you're now getting good info on a potential date. Have fun digging into the family history. - Rob
    20. mareredware mareredware, 5 years ago
      Thanks vintagefran!
    21. antiquerose antiquerose, 4 years ago
      thought I would pass on this Youtube vid about the same thing they did in the Victorian days -- deceased people pics.
    22. scottvez scottvez, 4 years ago
      The youtube video perpetuates many of the MYTHS about Victorian PM images.

      Most of the images are in fact LIVE PEOPLE.

      In these days it pays to research-- not everything posted online is accurate.


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