Momento Mori

In today’s world, everything is captured in the form of a photograph. We seem to have an incessant need to capture every moment and immortalize it- a sort of living memory. Since the 1840’s and 1850’s the world has been looked at as a ‘potential photograph,’ and taking a photograph deems that moment photo-worthy.[1] According to Sontag, photography is ‘non-interventionist.’ [2] Rather than intervene, the photographer chooses to capture the moment.

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Cameras hold the ability to violate the most intimate moment; someone’s last moments on earth are forever immortalised by a photograph. Their pain and suffering will be circulated across the world, to be studied by art lovers and discussed in classrooms. The ability to capture the horrors of war has anesthetized us against the cruelties of the world. Our familiarity with atrocities has led to a ‘saturation point’ whereby, we are no longer emotionally affected by pain and suffering of others. [3] Indeed, the grotesque draws our attention.

We have had a long standing obsession with death. War photography looks for the exhibition value- the moments which will grab the audience’s attention and make an impact. Whilst war photography captures the extreme, another way we have captured death can be seen in Victorian post-mortem photography. They look to immortalize the dead through art of photography. The images are manipulated to make the moment of death. Compared to deaths captured in war, the photograph below shows the bodies of infants whose bodies have been manipulated so as to appear if they are merely sleeping. Portraits were extremely expensive, therefore the only photos of family portraits are often those with the deceased. [4] Capturing death is our only method of immortalizing the deceased.

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[1] Susan Sontag, On photography, (London, 1978), p.3.

[2] Susan Sontag, On photography, (London, 1978), p. 11.

[3] Susan Sontag, On photography,( London, 1978),  p.21

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