Family Expressions of Pain in Postmortem Portraiture
This essay argues that in postmortem portraits there are visible traces of the pain of mourning and bereavement. Using independent research with Thanatos Archive, I analyze the way in which the pose, style, props and placement of early postmortem photographs reflect the pain of the mourner. These tropes, I argue, relate to Marianne Hirsch’s concept of the familial gaze, where the viewer is aware of a photograph being taken for the family and circulated within it. Having formed a basis for reading the family into the postmortem photograph, I then reconsider Nan Goldin’s contemporary postmortem portrait, Cookie in Her Casket (1989) to offer a reading of the portrait as an expression of Goldin’s pain that overwhelms any attempt to present a representational portrait of Cookie.
postmortem photography, portraiture, mourning, familial gaze, Nan Goldin