November 13, 2011

The face of it

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For the first time in my recent memory, The New York Times has published a photo of a corpse of a person who died of natural causes. The paper frequently posts images of the dead taken by war or disaster. Here the body (photographed by Librado Romero), laid out in a coffin, is surprisingly intense, as is the story of the dead woman, Noemi Rivera and her husband Edwin Morales.

Memento Mori was common in Victorian era. The dead were posed and photographed. The treasured images were hung in the parlor. As our culture embraced modern medicine, we moved out of the home into the hospital to die. Our experience with death became removed from daily life, and we became less comfortable with impermanence. In fact, some find it vulgar. One New York Times reader posted the comment “This is a beautiful love story. The photograph is in very poor taste.”

How does it feel to you to look death in the face?