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Our Fave Post-Mortem Photo Albums

Despite taboo connotations, photographing the dead has long been part of our culture for both practical purposes and as keepsake for posterity. The Black Museum’s upcoming June 11 lecture on evolving attitudes toward death takes a special look at post-mortem photographs that have become increasingly collectible over the years. If you find yourself craving more and you’re not keen to scour obscure web auctions, we recommend the following books for the morbidly curious.

Wisconsin Death Trip
Michael Lesy

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The first book collecting post-mortem photography was this influential work from 1973, featuring 19th-century photographs by Charles Van Schaick accompanied by newspaper reports of violence, death, disease and disaster. A disturbing classic!

Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America
Stanley Burns

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Burns has become the most respected researcher and collector of post-mortem images. This tome, considered the finest and rarest of its kind, reportedly offers over 500,000 images of death and medical interest, expanding its scope to examine the entire Victorian-era tradition of memorial photography.

Evidence
Luc Sante

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Not all post-mortem books are of babies in coffins. Sante’s showcases 55 black-and-white crime scene snaps taken by the New York City Police from 1914-18. These murder-tableaux – discovered while researching the essential NYC history book LOW LIFE – are strangely beautiful, in part due to powder effects creating eerie halos on the pics.

Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook
Sean Tejaratchi

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Picking up where Sante’s EVIDENCE leaves off, cult publisher Feral House delivers the private collection of LAPD detective Jack Huddleston – primarily documenting the 1920s and 30s, and with an emphasis on gore and shock value. GEEK LOVE author Katherine Dunn provides the introduction.

Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America
Jay Ruby

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For those curious about the context of death images, anthropology prof Ruby combines a visual survey with fascinating historical text considering why mortuary photography was popular and how the tradition has evolved to this day.

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