23 Beautiful Pictures of Dead People
We are afraid of death. At least that seems to be the general consensus in the Western world. If I were to offer you the chance to scan a gallery of 23 pictures of dead people, you might be morbidly curious or shy away to avoid distaste. But then you’ve never seen pictures of dead people through the eye of Dr. Paul Koudounaris’ lens.
Koudounaris has the distinct honor of being the world’s foremost charnel house authority and expert on mausoleums and ossuaries. In short, he enjoys the company of the dead. While we’re taught to see this as bizarre behavior (and that’s putting it nicely) Koudounaris’ trilogy of death-related books teach us that we’re in the minority with that kind of thinking. He’s travelled the world with his camera, gaining exclusive access to Vatican vaults and ancient crypts. He first stunned the world when he showed us pictures of dead people could actually be beautiful with 2011’s The Empire of Death.
That beauty became regally ornate in 2013’s Heavenly Bodies when he dazzled readers with the lavish jeweled skeletons of the Roman Catacombs. Revered as saints, these proud, majestic figures were portrayed as devoid of the haunting qualities we’re taught to heap upon our deceased.
Koudounaris planned to explore death in these sacred and ritualistic contexts in a trilogy of books. In early 2015, the project was fully realized with Memento Mori, a stunning foray into the often ignored warmth of death that’s so celebrated outside of our culture. With Memento Mori, Koudounaris widened his already panoramic scope, travelling to Africa, Asia, and remote regions of South America to find those that not just honored their dead but death itself.
Koudounaris gains access to such stirring images not only because of his vast knowledge but because he truly understands the dead possibly better than we understand ourselves. When you look at pictures of dead people through the eyes of Koudounaris, you see the obvious curiosity but just beyond that, you see the compassion and eventually the empathy.
Memento Mori is published by Thames and Hudson and available through all major bookstores.
You can also keep up on the lectures, events, and other news for Dr. Paul Koudounaris at his official site, Empire de la Mort.
23 Gorgeous Pictures of Dead People
St. Pancratius – an armored skeleton in Switzerland though his bones originally rested in the Roman Catacombs and the cover star of Koudounaris’ 2011 book The Empire of Death (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
The mummified remains of Francesco Balsamo in Palermo, Sicily (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
St. Coronatus, a lavishly clothed and ornamented skeleton in Heiligkreuztal, Germany (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
Mummified priests in Gangi, Sicily (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
Mummified monks in Palermo, Sicily (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
An intricate ossuary tomb in Lampa, Peru (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A gilded skull; part of a Ruamkatanyu Foundation shrine in Bangkok, Thailand (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A skull with offerings in Kete Kesu, Sulawesi, Indonesia – while these offerings may seem disrespectful to our culture, they’re actually given with love, respect and friendliness (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A skull wearing sunglasses at the Fiesta de las Natitas in La Paz, Bolivia – while skulls are often presented as fearsome symbols in Western culture, the skulls of the Fiesta de las Natitas are treated much akin to the way we might treat a beloved pet (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
Another skull of the Fiesta de las Natitas in La Paz, Bolivia – this one crowned in flowers (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A mummified monk in Rome, Italy (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A gilded corpse in Taipei, Taiwan (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A mummified woman in Burgio, Sicily (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A top hat-wearing skeleton in Burgio, Sicily (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
The jeweled skeleton of St. Felix of Gars Am Inn, Germany – the famous face on the cover of Koudounaris’ 2013 book Heavenly Bodies (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
Sinai, Egypt charnel house at St. Catherine’s Monastery – (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
An ossuary in Sedlec, Czech Repyblic (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)
A burial cave in the village of Lombok, Sulawesi, Indonesia (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)