Seeing Shades: Death in Photography

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Taught by J.R. Pepper

J.R. Pepper is a photographer, artist and researcher who specializes in Victorian spirit photography and Japanese popular culture. Her work featured on a variety of websites, album covers, galleries, press releases and publications, including  Haunted America:FAQ by Dave Thompson. She has done lectures and panels at various conventions including New York Anime Festival, New York Comic Con, Tokyo in Tulsa, Salon Con, The Steampunk World's Faire, Catland Books and with the Morbid Anatomy Museum. She lives in New York and works as an archivist in a retouching studio and an assistant at The Burns Archive.  

image credit: Bill Wadman

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Modern Americans tend to shy away from death and the idea of photographing the dead or the dying is decidedly taboo. However, this was not always the case and at some points was even fashionable.

Victorians were obsessed with death and used photography as a means to document people in their last moments and collected postmortem photographs of the deceased. Meanwhile in the 1860’s, photographers like William Mumler and William Hope, claimed they were capable of photographing the ghosts of people’s lost loved ones.

Today, however; such photographs are considered unthinkable, however there are modern photographers who use the lens as a means to show death for what is and even show the beauty of that which most would chose not to see. In this discussion we will examine the way that photography has recorded the darkest and last of life’s chapters.

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