Beyond the Dark Veil is a handsome new volume exploring a fascinating, now seemingly macabre death practice.
During the Victorian era, with the popular spread of photography, and before the emergence of a funeral industry, the practice of home post-mortem photography had its heyday. It was common to have your deceased loved ones photographed, not only while lying in state, but sitting in chairs, standing up (with the aid of special corpse stands), even posing with living members of the family. It was as though, given the advent of the photograph, people felt as though they could keep their loved ones alive longer by taking pictures of them. And those pictures weren’t hidden away, to be privately wept over in melancholy remembrance, but prominently displayed in the most public areas of the home.
This is a gorgeously-produced hardbound book with an embossed, gold-foiled black leather cover and golden-edged pages. Photography comprises the bulk of the content here, but there are also essays from Jack Mord (owner of the Archive), author and death researcher Bess Lovejoy, artist Marion Peck, poet Joanna Roche, historian of photography Joe Smoke, and others.
The book contains 194 images, which include deathbed post-mortem photos, photos of dead children and families, adults, crime and tragedy post-mortems, and even photos of dead pets. The book also serves as a fascinating survey of late 19th century imaging technologies, with hand-colored photographs, albumen prints, ambrotypes, cabinet cards, carte de viste, daguerreotypes, gelatin silver prints, opaltypes, photo postcards, stereoviews, and tintypes, all from the extensive collection of The Thantos Archive.
Peppered throughout are also newspaper clippings, ads for funeral products, images of caskets, hearses, funeral trains, and other tools and ephemera of Victorian death and mourning. There is even a brief glossary of 19th century photography terms.