Young America. The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes. George Eastman House International Center of Photography
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YOUNG AMERICA
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PUBLIC PORTRAITURE
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POSTMORTEM PORTRAITURE
THE DEATH OF PAIN
THE PARLOR STEREOSCOPE
DAGUERREOTYPE PROCESS
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POSTMORTEM PORTRAITURE

photo of Albert S. Southworth
[Postmortem Unidentified Child], ca. 1850.
Gift of Alden Scott Boyer.
George Eastman House.

The tradition of making portraits of the deceased existed long before the introduction of the daguerreotype. Often this was done because no other portrait of the departed existed. Such portraits kept the memory of a person alive to those most attached and grieving over the loss. It was quite natural for the daguerreotypist to be called into such a service. Through the time-transcending power of the daguerreotype, the realities of the first moments of death could be turned back to the last moments of life, if properly managed.

Southworth & Hawes gave such service with great sensitivity to the needs of their clients, and stressed this specialty in their advertisements. Southworth wrote to the public:

The artist is often required to transfer to canvas, paper or marble, the living features after the pulse has ceased to beat. Much oftener is the daguerreotypist called to copy what life has left. Sometimes he may represent “balmy sleep,” but too frequently will the last enemy so have marked his victim, that the picture cannot be contemplated with satisfaction…. But even in such cases an artist may be able to make a faithful likeness…under the worst and most forbidding circumstances…. As a general rule let the artist be sent for as soon as practicable, and let his suggestions be considered and followed in most cases, and not more than an hour will be required to perform the whole task and leave all as well, perhaps better than when he commenced. With confidence and care the drapery, and the posture of death will not be first seen and most forcible in the likeness.

 

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