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Peaceful Ironies: The History and Aesthetics of Postmortem Photography in Quebec and Ontario (19th and 20th Centuries)

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Peaceful Ironies: The History and Aesthetics of Postmortem Photography in Quebec and Ontario (19th and 20th Centuries)

Cluff, Troy (2014) Peaceful Ironies: The History and Aesthetics of Postmortem Photography in Quebec and Ontario (19th and 20th Centuries). Other. UNSPECIFIED. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper contributes to the nascent field of the history of photography in Canada, and more specifically the history of postmortem photography. It explores the practice of this custom in Quebec and Ontario during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, focusing in particular on the aesthetics of over 100 images that the author consulted in ten different archives from either province.

The paper emphasizes the correlation between early postmortem photographs and the movement to develop rural cemeteries in Victorian Canada. It also explores the development of postmortem photography in Canada over time, expressing how the custom ceased to be a primarily bourgeois practice around the First World War. It has found that postmortem photography was increasingly adopted by middle and working-class Canadians over time, until death became a taboo subject around the mid-twentieth century.

While the history of postmortem photography has recently seen important developments, including Audrey Linkman’s Photography and Death in 2011, research on the custom as it was practiced in Canada has been relatively shallow. Furthermore, earlier studies of the ritual have emphasized how gleaning socio-cultural information from the pictures is of much higher value to the historian than reading them intrinsically, and actually caution against looking at the visual aesthetics of the photographs explicitly. To challenge this dictum, this paper has researched and concentrated almost exclusively on the aesthetics of postmortem photographs, demonstrating how an aesthetically-focused study of the source material actually can yield useful and important information to the historian. The distinct correlation between the aesthetic of these photographs and the nineteenth-century movement to create new, rural cemeteries in Victorian cities, for instance, is a relevant discovery for the history of postmortem photography and the culture of death in Canada both, which had not yet been made in existing studies of the ritual.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > History
Item Type:Monograph (Other)
Authors:Cluff, Troy
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Program:History
Date:22 August 2014
ID Code:978903
Deposited By: TROY CLUFF
Deposited On:02 Sep 2014 14:28
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:47
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