This practice offers a variant spin on our current conception of the phrase “to have” someone. The Victorians claimed ownership over the bodies of their beloveds by transforming them into ornament. Not only was this ownership asserted very visually and concretely to others, it also symbolized a triumph over the inevitable: estrangement, death. Everyone knows that hair is dead from the moment it becomes visible on the scalp, but even so, The Victorians so delicately curated these lustrous and dead clumps to symbolize vivacity, sexuality, and the eternal.
Soon after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, however, hair jewelry became less trendy. People could now carry flattened, shrunken images of their loved ones. By the mid 1840’s, the middle of The Victorian era, the daguerreotype was made relatively accessible and affordable to the public.
The slow shudder speed, however, forced subjects to sit still for uncomfortably long periods of time. Thus, the daguerreotype was initially used to memorialize the dead, who had no qualms sitting without blinking for over a minute. Photographers concocted methods of propping up corpses or shrouding them in blankets to make it appear that they were leaning on a sofa or merely resting. Mothers could carry the black and white image of their deceased children with healthy rouge superimposed on their cheeks. In this way we got closer to our ultimate desire to possess the people we love, to own them in a constant, albeit fabricated, state, to lessen the sting of death and departure. Desire shape-shifted into a new era.