I came across this image last week while researching the concept of 'memento mori' and it has haunted me ever since. It was not uncommon for the Victorians to photograph the dead as a way to pay tribute and remember them, but there is something so utterly sad about this photo that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The baby looks like it is sleeping. I’m sure this is deliberate. But it is the eyes of the woman holding it that I am drawn to: huge, hooded, slightly lop-sided, and full of grief. I am intrigued by the fact that the woman’s appearance is immaculate. She has been dressed as she would for any formal family portrait (one can’t help see echoes of the Madonna and child), and it must have taken her hours to get her hair just so – perfectly flat and pinned. I suppose it would have been a distraction for her while she was beside herself with sadness over the death of her baby. I am also disturbed by how young she is – little more than a child herself. And so there she sits, groomed, staring into the camera, and under her eyes you can see the dark circles probably caused by many sleepless nights – not just from mourning, but perhaps from sitting up night after night with a sick baby. I almost can’t bear to imagine the story behind this.
I’m sorry for being so morbid. I can’t even look at that baby.