Funerals have become more diverse in the ways people mourn the deceased and celebrate the lives of their lost loved one. In the ABC News Report, Alyssa Newcomb follows the unconventional funeral of Miriam Burbank and gives an example of the controversial practice of post mortem body posing. Miriam Burbank lived in the lively city of New Orleans and was an active 53 year old that enjoyed Busch Beer, Menthol Cigarettes, and the nightlife New Orleans had to offer. In order to capture all that Burbank meant to them, Burbank’s daughters decided to pose their mother’s body rather than having a traditional body cremation or body in casket.
At her funeral, Miriam was wearing the New Orleans Saint’s colors because they were her favorite team. She is posed sitting at a table with a cigarette in one hand and a wine glass of Busch Beer in the other hand. The newscaster claims that the presentation was “well received by friends and family”. A friend of Burbank describes how the funeral presentation changed the entire environment. She states that the pose made you feel like you were walking into Burbank’s home, not into her funeral. Such unconventional body posing post mortem may be well received by friends and family, but does it violate the rights of the deceased?
The history of body posing post mortem and photographing the deceased has been a controversial topic, especially for the last two centuries. According to A-plus, post mortem photography became extremely popular in the 19th century. Instead of calling a mortician when a family member died, it was more conventional to call a photographer. The deceased would then be posed in their home and favorite places for pictures. The photographer would often include the deceased’s living relatives in the photograph or even their beloved pets. Photographers also would make specific mechanical posts to keep the body standing up straight or stay in another desired position. By the end of the 19th century, this trend went into an extreme decline. It has just now recently remerged in popularity in the last two decades and is being seen at more funerals.
Although this article addresses that at many funerals, this post mortem body posing and photography has been received well, it fails to address huge concerns that these actions can effect. The first question it raises is that are these photographs or displays of post mortem bodies considered art? If we define art as a form of expression, then you can easily look at the case of Miriam Burbank and consider this practice an art form. The presentation is certainly an expression of who Burbank’s daughters saw her as.
But this then leads us to the question, is this who Burbank saw herself as? And are aspects of post mortem body posing and photography criminal? The laws concerning the disposition of a deceased person’s body differ state to state. In many states, post mortem body posing for a funeral would be considered illegal unless stated otherwise in a person’s will. Even if the practice is desired and stated in a persons will, it is extremely difficult to find a funeral home that will perform post mortem body posing. This is due to the fact that the practice is still seen as unconventional, and it is also much more difficult to embalm a body in such a way that it is able to be in positions other than laying in a casket. Many funeral home owners see the process as disrespect for the dead and therefore will not perform such funerals. Certain funeral homes, in large cities, such as New Orleans are starting to offer funerals involving post mortem body posing and photography because of popular demand.
These practices are growing in both their popularity and their controversy. Only the future will tell how much more popular this art form will become, and what laws states will have to put in place in order to respect the deceased’s body.
Newcomb, Alyssa. “Dead People Get Life-Like Poses at Their Funerals.” ABC News.
ABC News Network, 13 June 2014. Web.
“Rights and Obligations As To Human Remains and Burial.” Stimmel Law. N.p., n.d.
Stone, A.R. “These People May Look Like They’re Sleeping But They’re Not.” A Plus.
N.p., 01 Jan. 2009. Web.