According to this article from the Minneapolis Tribune but syndicated by the New York Times, “when Louise Rafkin posted a photo of her mother on Facebook the night of her death at age 98 in September with her golden retriever at her side, it rattled some family members and friends.” “The Facebook post was a way to announce the death,” Rafkin said.
We’ve all heard about the “death photos” of the past when it might be at a funeral that it was the only time the family would be together and some families would pose the deceased, in the photo, so a family portrait of all family members could be taken and kept for posterity. According to the article, that process was a part of history from when modern photography was born in 1839 and culminated about the time of World War I.
The question to be asked is, is it (death photos) back? The article tells about the ease of doing such with smartphone cameras.
One proponent of the practice says in the era of choosing home funerals and natural death practices, the death photo movement will be back. The photography is just an extension of that freedom and celebration of that choice.
Amy Cunningham, a New York City funeral director is quoted in the article, “The photograph seals the emotion. And with cellular phones ever-present, we’re going to be recording all kinds of things. Death is just one of them.”
Beth Lovejoy, the author of a book about the subject is quoted in the article and agrees with Cunningham’s assessment, “We’ve been so disconnected from death in the last century or so. But we are returning to the older ways. . .a movement backward that some say began in the ’70s, with the back-to-nature movement and midwifery and natural births. The natural death movement is part of that.”
Funeral Director Daily take: I’m not so sure what to make of this “movement”. I served families as a funeral director generally from 1980-2013 and would have found it odd during that time period if a picture of the deceased in the casket was taken by the family. It was done. . .but very, very seldom. The unspoken thought seemed to be, “the death picture is best left for the memory, not a photo.”
As a former owner of a funeral home, it would also make me very nervous about anybody but the direct relative in charge of arrangements taking the photo. I’d be very leery of somebody telling me that the family told them to take a photo of the deceased in the casket — or anywhere else for that matter.
With cell phones and sharing mediums that photo can be seen by many in a heartbeat. What if there was no permission? What kind of liability would a funeral director have. . . especially if the photo was taken in his establishment with his knowledge.
I guess if families want to to this, well, good for them. However, I would make sure as a funeral home owner I am protected from any misappropriation of the images before I let someone loose with a camera.