Monograph: Photography and Death – Framing Death throughout History

Published 20 June, Emerald Publications

This is my second monograph for the Death & Culture series, being published by Emerald in just a few days time. Unlike my first expedition in monograph writing, this one was much harder… maybe I was missing some of that blind optimism that comes with a maiden voyage, when you don’t know what you’re getting into and everything seems blissful exciting. As such, I am going to take a moment here to reflect on what I took away from the process. Compared to that previous experience, I am feeling far more anxious about this one because photography is not my usual field of research and I feel that I have not done my topic or its subjects the requisite amount of justice they deserve. That said, maybe I would have felt that way regardless. We tend to be highlight critical when writing about a subject matter that we feel a connection with. In any event, I hope that should anyone that reads this also come across a copy of the book they will find something useful in there or at least something thought provoking (even if the thoughts is one of passionate disagreement).

As I continue to educate myself further, I see a range of places where my own argument could be further developed, not just in a single area, but in all the subjects I touch on. Monographs are an excellent way for students and early career researchers to stretch their legs, don’t get me wrong, and if you find yourself with the opportunity to write one – do it! What I wish someone had told me though was that there is no such thing as perfection and that trying to achieve it will tarnish the experience for you. If you’re in the process of writing (or it’s on your bucket list) and no one has yet shared this with you, then I am doing it for you now.

It is also detrimental to your mental health and longevity to tie yourself to the outcome of a single project. We should never regard a single work as our best or only work, each is only a stepping stone. Writing this has been a monumental growing experience for me. It has been both humbling and enlightening. That’s the reward in academic writing (Lord knows we don’t get paid for it!) Anyway, if you’ve read this far I thank you and I wish you luck with your own projects. Don’t ever let an opportunity pass you by, no matter how it turns out, celebrate what you have accomplished.

I feel passionately about death studies and on bringing new viewpoints and voices to the study of death care, death rituals and after-death narratives. I love the work I get to do with the Death & Culture Network and I am always interested in talking to other people working in the field. With everything else going on in the world, it is also a tough time to be battling through academic life, so I also want to take a moment to highlight the importance of committing to what you love and sticking with it. Even when it doesn’t turn out exactly as you had envisioned, the love you have will be enough to pull you through any criticism and will inspire you to grow.

I hope that you all are doing the best you can, coping with the global turmoil,


The blurb for the book is below:

Photography represents a medium in which the moment of death can be captured and preserved, the image becoming a mechanism through which audiences are beguiled by the certainty of their own mortality. Examining a spectrum of post-mortem images, Photography and Death considers various ways in which the death image has been framed and what these styles communicate about changing social attitudes related to dying, mourning and the afterlife.

Presenting a fresh perspective on how we might view death photography in the context of our contemporary cultural milieu, this book brings together a range of historical examples to create a richer narrative of how we see, understand and discuss death in both the private and public forum. Building upon existing publications which relate explicitly to the study of death, dying and cultures of mourning, the book discusses topics such as post-mortem portraiture, the Civil War, Spiritualism and lynching. These are positioned alongside contemporary representations of death, as seen in celebrity death images and forensic photography. Uncovering an important historical contrast, in which modern notions of death are a comment on ownership or an emotionless, clinical state, Harris highlights the various ways that the deceased body is a site of contestation and fascination.

An engaging read for students and researchers with an interest in death studies, this book represents a unique account of the various ways that attitudes about death have been shaped through the photographic image.

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