19th Century French Criminal Tattoos by Lacassagne

The above photographs are from Alexandre Lacassagne's pioneer study of criminal tattoos from the 1890s. The images are from his personal collection.

In 1881 he published his text Les Tatouages, étude anthropologique et médico-légale, or Anthropological and Forensic Tattoos.

Alexandre Lacassagne (August 17, 1843 - September 24, 1924) was a French physician and criminologist who was a native of Cahors. He was the founder of the Lacassagne school of criminology, based in Lyon.

All photographs ©The Burns Archive


Sleeping Beauty III Book Release, Lecture & Reception at The Merchant's House Museum

Dr. Burns Lecturing on the History of Postmortem Photography
Dr. Burns Speaking about the Exhibition Memento Mori
Eva Ulz- Education Coordinator and Curator of
Memento Mori: The Birth & Resurrection of Postmortem Photography
Dr. Burns Signing Sleeping Beauty
Sarah Simms, Dr. Stanley Burns, Lissa Rivera, Leslie Hodgkins, Hal Hirshorn


TOMORROW NIGHT! Book Release Reception and Lecture for Sleeping Beauty III

©2010 The Burns Archive

Wednesday, November 17, 7 p.m.

Reading: Sleeping Beauty III Memorial Photography: The Children 
Dr. Stanley Burns of The Burns Archive will speak about the practice of postmortem photography from the 19th century until today, and sign copies of his latest book in the renowned Sleeping Beauty series. A reception to meet the author will follow. 
Free, space is limited.

Merchant's House Museum
29 East Fourth Street, New York, NY 10003
The Museum is located between Lafayette Street and Bowery

To RSVP Call 212-777-1089

To read more about postmortem photography at The Burns Archive click here:


I’m Looking Through You: The Dawn of X-Ray Phorotgraphy

To participate in the celebration of the 115th anniversary of x-ray photography, The Burns Archive presents a selection of images from an extensive collection documenting the development of Radiography.
©2010 The Burns Archive
A Comic Stereo-Image Parodying 'X-Ray Photography' c.1910
Despite considerable professional interest in x-rays, the idea of viewing one's own skeletal structure terrified many people and reinforced their long-standing association of doctors with death. Some even felt it was a premonition of early death!  
©2010 The Burns Archive
Marie Skłodowska Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934)
A pioneer in the field of radioactivity. She won the Nobel Prize in Physics (1903).
©2010 The Burns Archive
Patient Receiving Radiation Treatment, c. 1910
©2010 The Burns Archive
Therapeutic Pneumothorax Treatment, 1915.
From Dr. Kennon Dunham’s series of stereoroetenograms of lung disease and its treatment.
©2010 The Burns Archive
Patient Undergoing Radiation Treatment, c. 1915.
Note that both the doctor and nurse are not protected from radiation, although the patient wears a protective mask
©2010 The Burns Archive
Demonstration of an X-Ray Procedure
©2010 The Burns Archive
Demonstration of an X-Ray Procedure
©2010 The Burns Archive
X-Ray by Wilhelm Röntgen of a Normal  (left) and Abnormal (right) Hand, c.1895.
©2010 The Burns Archive
Doctor with Stereoscopic Machine, 1914.
A physician looks into the viewer of an innovative device to allow three dimensional viewing of x-rays.
©2010 The Burns Archive
Early Radiography Lab, c. 1915.
Patient in position for x-ray photograph of the head.
          The discovery of x-rays by Dr. Wilhelm C. Roentgen in 1895 followed anesthesia and antisepsis as the last of the three 19th century medical breakthroughs that shaped modern surgical practice. The advances of x-ray therapy and radium treatment, the establishment of safe effective surgical procedures, and the creation of specialties such as urology, endocrinology, and neurosurgery, made the entire body safely accessible. Deadly age-old scourges were conquered with the success of vaccines for numerous diseases, and the discovery of nutritional diseases and animal vectors of disease. Medicine was viewed as a source of wonder, and the surgeon in his operating room was recognized as the ‘master miracle maker.’ The photographs from this era dramatically portray these accomplishments.
          Research centers such as that of Vincenz Czerny, MD, heralded the establishment of a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment. The discovery of hormone-dependent tumors and the use of oophorectomy became firmly established. The x-ray was recognized as a two-edged sword: an amazing new modality to treat cancer and a significant cause of cancer. Both pioneer radiologists and patients suffered from deadly blood dyscrasias, sarcomas, and skin cancers. Hundreds died. The development of the Coolidge tube in 1913 provided safer control of the x-ray beam. New radiation therapies, with its power and destructive abilities, were incorporated into clinical use and assumed an important place in treatment. The use of radium was also investigated, and, with the development of sophisticated delivery apparatus, soon took center stage as an alternative cancer therapy

To learn more about x-ray photography from The Burns Archive, please read
Respiratory Disease a Photographic History: 1896-1920 The X-Ray Era.


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ABC News Coverage of Memento Mori Exhibition

©2010 The Burns Archive
Family Posed in Fancy Parlor Arrangement
From Sleeping Beauty III Memorial Photography: The Children


Nov. 1, 2010

Photographs of parents posing next to their dead children and the sound of dripping water simulating ice melting over a decomposing body are both disturbing and heart-breaking components of a new exhibition at the Merchant House Museum.

"Memento Mori" includes more than 50 postmortem memorial photographs and ephemera from the Burns Archive which is considered to be the largest private archive of historic photography. The exhibition also includes modern takes on memorial photography.

Postmortem photographs became popular after the introduction of photography in the mid-19th century. Although it seems morbid, photographs of the dead were done out a desire to preserve an image of a loved one.

"These portraits were not for public consumption," said Dr. Stanley B. Burns, 72, the archives' owner. "They were held very close to the chest."

In many cases, especially with children, family members often died before relatives had an opportunity to take their portraits.

 It's macabre but it doesn't creep me out," said Vincent Warren, 72, a library curator from Montreal, Canada. Warren happened upon the exhibition while touring the Merchant House Museum, a historic Federal style row house in Manhattan's East Village built in 1832.

Warren said the exhibition makes him think about the tremendous grief parents must have experienced when they lost their children.

"It wasn't easy," he noted. "It's sad, that's what it is. We're all going to turn to dust."

The Merchant House Museum was home to a single family for more than 100 years and still includes the house's original furniture and decorations. However, one thing is missing: postmortem photography. In particular, there were no postmortem photographs of Seabury Tredwell, the patriarch of the family. As a result, photographer Hal Hirshorn. 45, created his own vision of the Tredwell wake scene.

Hirshorn uses an old-fashioned salt-and-gelatin developing technique in his modern-day work. For him, it was a rare opportunity to use his 19th century style in the museum's 19th century environment. Hirshorn's seven photographs taken in the Merchant House Museum show the possible wake scene, including female models posing as Tredwell's mourning widow and daughter.

"Death really happened at home," said Eva Ulz, the museum's education and communications manager. She compared it to today when wakes and memorial services are held in funeral parlors outside the private home.

The idea that a family lived and mourned their dead relatives was part of the inspiration for artist Sarah Lohman's exhibition component.

Lohman's idea for the disturbing and distracting sound of dripping water in one of the Merchant bedrooms comes from a passage by Dr. Burns in his postmortem photography book Sleeping Beauty II: "When a body was laid out over ice in her family's parlor, the sound of melting ice dripping into pans kept her awake. To this very day, dripping sounds brings back to her the memories of dead bodies and sleepless nights."

"The idea that something as everyday as a dripping faucet could conjure up such a powerful image of death intrigued me," Lohman explained. "Life is a multi-sensory experience; I believe that invoking these senses to connect with people of the past is a very powerful teaching tool."