Death In Photography

Friends who know me are familiar with my many images involving death. I was surprised in college when a friend brought to my attention how many things in my portfolio were dead. It started with the dead birds, then dead sea creatures... and I've always been fascinated with such things. The birds and sea creatures, however, were more of an artistic adventure. The birds were colorful and textured and when combined with my artist statement, it meant so much. The sea creatures (most were real, some were toys) were more of objects used to recreate a scene, and in the scenes, my intention was to make them look alive. I always wanted to do underwater photography... and since I haven't taken the opportunity, I decided to fake it. It worked quite well too!


At times I may see roadkill and think about that animals life and what it felt like to die in such a traumatic event. It's amazing me to how an animal can sit on the side of the road for days, dead and rotting, uncared for. And people just pass it by, looking away. The other interest is documenting it - death is gross/sad/lonely/ugly, but why? It's the last journey, the final step, the inevitable! In some cultures it is a celebration. I think it is beautiful. I took a photo of this fox and if you can see see past the pain and suffering in his face, you see his elegance.

I also love photos of death. One of my favorite images is by Joel-Peter Witkin of a disected and severed human head (left). It's gorgeous; the man looks so at peace and angelic. I could stare at it all day. It makes me feel free and uplifted - how does it make you feel?

People turn the other cheek when death confronts them, making it somewhat taboo. Death is not often observed closely by the general person. When I started looking for dead birds, they were everywhere! I think people have situated themselves to ignore it, in a way.

Share your thoughts on death. Death in life, death in art...

The topic of "Death In Photography" was suggested by Malia Moss. Always looking for your input! Give me an appropriate topic of interest and I'll write a photography post about it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

6 responses to Death In Photography

  1. Will Abbott says:

    It does seem like any serious thought of overtly using death as a subject matter became taboo in the 20th century. Prior to that it was a fairly accepted theme. Look at the popularity of Victorian death portraits or event the constant inclusion of the "Memento mori" in Renaissance art.

    Recently I found the "death" portraits of Rebecca Handler.
    http://www.rebeccahandler.com/portfolios/451-broken-series-in-progress. They are great contemporary example of approaching the subject with a (almost) humorous view.

  2. Kelly Heck says:

    Nice post Will! And thank you for sharing Rebecca's work, she has a wild portfolio.

  3. In much older jewelry they would use hair of loved ones that had passed on. I've seen some of it and it's beautiful and kind of disturbing at the same time.

  4. Doug Land. says:

    When was the last time you saw anything taxidermied? They call it "barbaric" now a days, back then it was just saving the wrapper the burrito came in.

  5. Hallie says:

    My mom just finished reading "Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous & the Notorious" by Alix Strauss. She said it was great. You should check it out. : )

  6. Carolyn says:

    More great work, Kelly. Can't wait 'til your new site is up - please let us know!!