Altadena, Ca: Twelvetree Press, 1990. First edition. Tall octavo, 30.5 x 23cm, black eps, 140pp (unpaginated), 76 examples of mourning protraiture in nineteenth century America.
Very Good/Very Good. Tiny nick to top edge of front board, very slight lean. Black cloth boards with title in argent on top board and spine. In a very good dust jacket, three indentations on front, 3cm neatly repaired vertical tear along foot of front joint, minor creases.
Daguerre invented the first practical and inexpensive process of photography in 1839, coinciding with a series of epidemics across the United States that raised mortality rates and often took the young before the old. For the first time ordinary people had the means of recording a likeness of their loved ones for posterity. The post-mortem or in memoriam photograph was often the only portrait ever taken of an individual. The Burns Archive is the largest archive of such photographs in the world and his landmark book Sleeping Beauty was the first of its kind ever published. When Alex Harris reviewed it for the New York Times he observed that while “…our ancestors knew all about death. We know and see – virtually nothing”, and was persuaded that, “[t]hough we have conquered many of the diseases that killed our ancestors, we fear death so much that we have forgotten how to grieve.” Nevertheless the tradition of in memoriam photography continues today in some families, though due to advances in technology that have made photography a universal hobby they are less likely to employ a professional photographer for the purpose.
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