Postmortem Photography at The Burns Archive

Sleeping Beauty I: Memorial Photography in America, 1990 Twlevetrees Press

    The Burns Archive is the ultimate visual and academic source for information on postmortem photography. Dr. Burns, a physician and collector, has a unique view of this art in terms of medical history and the grieving process. He discovered this phenomenon in his early collecting when he first purchased a postmortem in 1976. Since that time he has amassed the greatest collection of postmortem photography in the world. The interest in this subject lagged – it took him 14 years to find a publisher for his first postmortem book, Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America. It was quickly heralded as one of the best photography books of that decade and of all time. It was the first publication to focus on postmortem photography and its place in American history, culture and art. 

     In addition, Sleeping Beauty has influenced an eclectic array of fields, from bereavement counseling and education to cultural anthropology, history, medicine, philosophy, religion and spirituality and pop music. It has been cited in debates on the death penalty, euthanasia and abortion. Dozens of publications have revisited the topic of death and dying in the new context provided by the book, extracting images and stories from within its pages. Such titles include
Musée d’Orsay's Le Dernier Portrait and Die Tode Der Fotografie by Katharina Sykora.

     Sleeping Beauty
has also served as inspiration and source material for artists and filmmakers including films such as The Others and A Haunting in Connecticut. It has been the subject of numerous popular articles and scholarly papers as well as seminars and exhibitions at notable institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The New Museum of Contemporary Art. These institutions as well as other major collections have begun to collect postmortem photography because of the world-wide popularity of Sleeping Beauty.

Le Dernier Portrait, 2002 Musée d’Orsay
With the popularity of Sleeping Beauty, the Archive published Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, Bereavement & The Family in Memorial Photography American & European Traditions a decade later in conjunction with an exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay. It too was met with critical acclaim and success. Sleeping Beauty III Memorial Photography: The Children is the third installment in this series. It will be printed in a smaller format (6 x 6 3/4 inches) with over 100 photographic reproductions as part of a new Burns Archive series that will explore various aspects of the collection and will serve as a photographic catalog the Archive to make it more accessible to the general public. We recieve emails and letters daily about our memorial collection from students completing their dissertation to curators organizing exhibitions. We have chosen this topic to be the first in the new series because of the continued interest in postmortem and bereavement photography.