There used to be one curious photograph in our family photo album–a picture of a baby in a casket on the porch of a farm house. All of us were either not born yet or too young to remember when the baby died, so the photo was our only link with it. Did the profile look like the any of us? I don’t know, it was a baby, but people did linger over that photo. It was also the only photo of a deceased family member I have ever seen. Until now.
I was unable to be at the funeral of a family member who died recently but the photos are now online at the funeral home website–photos of the deceased from various angles and photos of family members I don’t know–probably the grown up children of people I do know. None of them look like they are exactly at their best, and none of them look like how I want to remember them. Yes, you can order them online for a fee, and no, no one I know in the family plans to buy one.
During the Cold War, I don’t remember pictures of corpses. It was always sort of a taboo. In the newspaper business, the policy was always to show any dead bodies so that the faces were not identifiable. Can you imagine a family having to come across something like that by accident?
Now that our wars have moved to the Middle East, corpses have became the new propaganda tool. In Somalia the photo of an American soldier killed in fighting and dragged around the streets galvanized public opinion and got American troops out of the country. In Palestine’s West bank, photos of dead Israeli babies were posted on the streets with gloating victory slogans, while photos of dead Palestinian babies were shoved under the noses of visiting westerners by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. During the Iraq war, friends in the Middle East–people who were normal by Middle Eastern standards–sent me links to pictures of dead Iraqi babies. In the latest Gaza war, Hamas again trotted out dead baby pictures as part of the propaganda war.
It seems we have now become so calloused that seeing pictures of corpses is now normal, where it was never normal before. Is that why I can now see a picture of a deceased family member online halfway across the country? Or maybe it’s just a matter of different customs in different parts of the country or in different families.
Is there anyone out there whose family does take pictures of the deceased?