Photodeath as memento mori
: a contemporary investigation

  • Catherine Elizabeth Bowdler

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    This thesis is an exploration of the links between the notions exemplified in traditional memento mori imagery and the Barthian concept of 'photodeath'. In order to do this I have chosen three contemporary photographers: Christian Boltanski, Joel Peter Witkin and Peter Hujar, in whose work both concepts are manifest in completely different ways.

    The concepts of memento mori and photodeath are initially discussed separately in some detail. Then, by careful examination of key works in each artist's oeuvre, some critical observations about the nature of both concepts are teased out and explored.

    The major issues to arise include: what kind of image constitutes a contemporary memento mori, the possible role that photodeath plays in filling the void left by the 20th century denial of death and ritual, and inability of 'photodeath as a phenomenon' to be perceived in the vast number of photographs that assail us daily.

    These questions are floated throughout the thesis and are not conclusively answered. Certain possibilities are posited however, and their investigation in relation to the work of the three photographers helps to illuminate some of the dark recesses and grey areas that one necessarily encounters when studying the topic of death.
    Date of AwardSept 1996
    Original languageEnglish

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