Step beyond the veil into the haunting and beautiful world of the dead as the California State University Fullerton’s Begovich Gallery presents “Beyond the Dark Veil: PostMortem and Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive,” curated by Jacqueline Ann Bunge Barger, running November 2 though December 12, 2013. The Thanatos Archive houses an extensive collection of early post‐mortem, memorial, and mourning photographs dating as far back as the 1840s, from which “Beyond the Dark Veil” was drawn.
Over 180 extraordinary photographs documenting the practice of death and mourning photography in the Victorian Era and early twentieth century, enhanced with memorial ephemera and related artifacts, take us on a melancholy journey though the past–lost loves, dead and dying children, parents who have passed–while celebrating the strength, bravery, and the depth of the human spirit.
Images of the dead existed for centuries before the advent of the daguerreotype. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans created death masks, and the tradition continued into the 18th century. While these and painted portraits and, in particular, deathbed scenes, were expensive luxury items commissioned by the wealthy. But by the 1850s and 1860s, photography studios, once a rarity, became more widespread as more adventurous souls developed the art and craft. Newer, less costly formats like were introduced, and the number of photographs being produced grew exponentially. Post‐mortem photography reached its height in the 1860s and 70s, as did mourning rituals including mourning garb like “widow’s weeds,” mourning jewelry, and mourning decor for the home.
Once a tangible way to keep the memory of a departed loved one alive and close at hand in times of need, these photographs usher us into a bygone era when death was not hidden away, but set up in the front parlor for visitation. Death was prepared for, both mentally and spiritually, celebrated through religious ceremony, mourning rituals, elaborate floral funeral displays and through the funerals themselves.
The subjects in “Beyond the Dark Veil,” for the most part nameless, their stories unknown, remain fixed in death, reminding us that in the midst of life we are in death, and thus we should live each moment to its fullest.
Celebrate the dead and the living at the reception for “Beyond the Dark Veil,” November 2 from 5pm to 8pm, and through December 12. The Begovich Gallery hours are 12 ‐ 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 12‐2 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free.