Dead Faces

Rudolf Schäfer

Photographing the dead is not new–in the last century, it was quite common–but people do find the idea rather strange. Many people today don’t know what a dead person looks like. In modern society we are separated from the event of death: somebody becomes ill and goes into hospital, and then there’s a phone call or a telegram informing you of the death, and the body is prepared and put in the coffin, and the coffin is put in the grave and that’s it. There is no direct experience of what death actually looks like, and people have formed this notion that it must look terrible because the events leading to it were terrible.

These photographs may also seem strange merely because of the way I’ve presented them. A full-face portrait, perfectly natural in life, seems unnatural in death. These are ordinary poses. We are constantly bombarded with newspaper and television pictures of catastrophes and wars–violent, extreme pictures–but we defuse one of the implications of these images–our own mortality–with the thought that nothing so extreme will ever happen to us. With these pictures you simply don’t have that option.

A History