The dageurrotype photographic process democratized portraiture, a genre once reserved for the wealthy. Post-mortem daguerrotypes were often made when no previous portrait of the subject, especially a child, had been taken, as part of a mourning and memorialization process. The photograph was a tangible object that represented the lost person, meeting the need to "keep the dead alive."

In this selection of post-mortem dageurrotypes, several of the subjects are shown as if in sleep. Stanley B. Burns, M.D., writes that the discovery of anesthesia in 1846 allowed the concepts of death and sleep to meet, marking a turning point in the concept of death. Other images show a parent cradling or mourning over a dead child. One post-mortem of a boy is enclosed in a double case with the image of his family.

The post-mortem photography best known today is James Van Der Zee's work from 1920 on, published as _The Harlem Book of the Dead_. Today, these popular nineteenth century and early twentieth century genre photographs are little known and "there is no culturally normative response to postmortem photographs."

Drawn and cited from Stanley B. Burns, M.D., In _Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America (Twelvetrees Press, 1990)_, preface and caption 18.

Announced on January 7, 1839, the dageurrotype process enjoyed widespread popularity for the next two decades. The image on polished silver plate became known as "a mirror with a memory." Each image is unique in and of itself and reversed left to right. Highlights are fixed in an amalgam of silver and mercury, while shadows are represented by the polished surface of the plate itself, making the angle of view a critical factor in perceiving the image. The process is known for its clarity of detail and excellent range of tones.

Paraphrased from Camfield and Deirdre Wills, History of Photography: Techniques and Equipment (New York: Hamlyn, 1980), pp. 12-15.

Dageurrotypes from the collection of Graham Pilecki of Pilecki's Antique Camera and Image Exchange, Albany, California