This 1860s vintage CdV has some distinguishing characteristics of early CdV portraiture. The image itself is small and masked in an oval shape in the center of the print. Second, there is no photographer information, the card is hand cut and flimsy, and the corners are square. These all point to the early 1860s. More captivating however is the actual subject of the photograph. This child has an expression that I termed slack mouthed, but at times I wonder if this is a memento mori because it is such an odd expression. The child is seated on a chair, and a parent or brace is hiding behind the drape directly behind the child. The style of dress suggests that this was a girl child. Early memento mori photographs attempted to put the subject into the most natural positions as possible, so that the loved ones could remember their dear departed as they were in life. Particularly in the early days of photography, this might be the only time a person was photographed, and with the staggeringly high childhood mortality rates of the time, there’s no wonder why families had these photos made. While we might consider even taking photos in a graveyard to be uncomfortable, our ancestors had a much different relationship with death, and so were not as reluctant to have these types of photos made.
What do you think? Was the child a simpleton or is this a memento mori?
This is a proud Sepia Saturday submission. Please click through and check out happier photos from around the world!
UPDATE: The consensus is that this is NOT a memento mori photograph, but instead an uncooperative subject. Thanks all!