Photography began in Europe in 1839. That’s when the concept of having a final image of a loved one began to take root. The most common photographs of the dead were those of infants and children. During an era of a high infant mortality rate the photographs allowed one chance to have an image of the child who would never grow up. Photographs of these children in their coffins often featured them dressed in satin with a floral crown arranged on their head. Siblings and other family members often appeared in the photograph with the dead child.
An Expense of Necessity
Few people could afford to have photographs taken. Only the wealthy had their images captured on film. But the thought of forgetting the face of a loved one who had died justified the expense of paying for such an extravagance. By the end of the 19th century this new technology became accessible to most socioeconomic segments of the population. The photographing of the dead became entwined in the grieving process of New Mexico.
Death Surrounded By Life
Photographs of the dead surrounded by family members would be the last chance to have a complete family photo. For young children who had lost a parent or grandparent it was their last memory of that relative. Photographing the dead allowed the memory of the departed to live on with future generations. Photographs of deceased family members found a place next to the photos of the living. These images held a place of honor in the home and served as a vital part of the grieving process. By remembering their dead through conversation and sharing pleasant accounts about their lives at family gatherings people believed that it kept the departed spiritually alive.