Mortuary Selfies: Photos from Among the Tombs


Ruth photographing memorials in the cloister of Canterbury Cathedral

Reblogged from Howard’s Archaeodeath.

There is much outrage and indignation about the proliferation of ‘selfies’ extending into mortuary and dark touristic realms in the media of late. Boundaries of ‘taste’ have been infringed apparently. With this in mind, and nearing the completion of Strand 1 of the Past in its Place project, with a forthcoming exhibition about our work planned at Exeter Cathedral, it seems appropriate to post some photographs of the project team exploring the memorials and tombs of English and Welsh cathedrals.

As part of the project, we have been taking an exhaustive set of digital photographs of the memorials on windows, fittings, walls and floors in a series of English and Welsh cathedrals. This has presented all manner of methodological and practical challenges and I am not always pleased with the results. The advantages have been tremendous too, since we are focusing not only on the grandest monuments, but on the humble ledgers too. Hence, we are exploring the chronological and spatial variability of commemorative practices in and around cathedrals.

Incidentally and sometimes accidentally, Ruth and I have captured pictures of project members going about photographing and investigating memorials and tombs, talking with each other around memorials and tombs, and meeting librarians, archivists and archaeologists.

I didn’t go about this recording of other people in a systematic way, and likewise pics with me in are rare and accidental. In and around cathedrals where I was alone on my visit, there are few pics of myself. I wonder if these photographs will arouse anger and indignation. If not, this blog entry might simply be a bit self-indulgent. Still, they are not really ‘selfies’ in the usual sense, but in the collective project sense, they are photographs of ‘us’.

Be that as it may, like funeral selfies, it is not mere narcissism of myself and/or of the project. These photographs serve to document, to mark our presence in time and place, at different times of day, times of year, and in different English and Welsh places with long and complex ‘histories of memory’. We were there, we saw the tombs, we saw the memorials, we visited that place.  As such, in a humble sense, they are a snapshot of the many thousands of pilgrims and visitors who, over the centuries, for different motives and different circumstances, have explored and inscribed, prayed and remembered, sung and sobbed among the tombs…. In many ways, this is exactly the kind of memory work our project is seeking to investigate.

Featured are Philip, Naomi, Paty, Ruth and various other scholars with whom with met at Norwich, Canterbury, St Albans and elsewhere.


Howard at St Albans


Naomi, Paty and Philip at Exeter


The team at Norwich


Philip and Ruth at Norwich


Naomi and Philip at Norwich


Ruth, bravely exploring Ripon Cathedral on crutches! What a star!


Naomi at Norwich


Philip at Edith Cavell’s grave, outside Norwich Cathedral


Howard at St Albans


Meeting Julian Litten at Norwich


Ruth at Canterbury