Swedish Family Portrait

Hagman, Anton (Swedish, 1854-1943)

c. 1900
Photographic print
3 ¾ × 2 ¼ in.
Kenyon College, Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2015.114

Death does not always have to be physically present in photographs for it to still be a relevant subject. Although not explicitly funerary, this image of three Swedish women highlights many of the broader themes surrounding nineteenth-century portrait photography. Only the middle to upper classes could afford studio portraits, meaning that few early funerary photographs from the working class exist. The popularity of photo studios and the prevalence of death resulted in photographers who specialized in post mortem photography, marking the first business efforts to profit off of memorial work. Even regular images such as this carried underlying associations with death: at their core, portrait photographs commemorated one’s likeness and preserved their existence long after they died.

What do explicit post mortem images emphasize that other family photographs do not?