It appears to be an unassuming grey book. The words “Post Mortem" are printed in black typeface. As an object, Patrik Budenz's book Post Mortem is delicate to hold, light in weight, simple and clean, much like the environments represented in the photographs, once you open the cover: the environment of the modern day mortuary.
Mortuaries were not always a de facto part of death. Prior to industrialization, most people died at home in the company of family, who were also responsible for the deceased's body. Today, most people die alone, and their bodies are transported from their residences or care facilities to the local mortuary where they are cleaned and prepared for either cremation or viewing.
The idea of mortuaries can conjure up grim, unsettling imagery from movies and television, but Budenz eschews the sensationalist approach for a compassionate, respectful insight into the processes and preparations for the recently deceased.
The first image sets a direct, reflective tone with a large metal shelving array, neatly filled with corpses in translucent body bags, toe tags exposed. The images immediately following are close ups of the recently dead. In one photo we see a face, lips puckered, ashen. Beyond it we can see sutures stretching on along the length of the entire chest. Budenz uses a subdued colour in his photos, emphasizing the absence of life, and often shoots his subjects uncomfortably close. Though they are not gruesome, the images grip us with the realization that life no longer inhabits these bodies.
In five sections, unnamed and unnumbered, Budenz walks us through the various stages of a body's transition through the mortuary. The images show us the surgical aspects of preparing the body, and the process of transforming a lifeless body to look the way they did when alive. Photographs of white linen and lace here underscore a sense of purity and serenity.
Later, Budenz peers into the cremation oven. A closed casket enters a large kiln; a flame-engulfed skeleton shrivels in the heat, until all that remains is the metal fastenings that held together the casket. The images of this formal, sterile process of handling human bodies work together to remind us of our inevitable return to dust. With tenderness, Post Mortem takes the viewer into a passage we are all destined to cross through.
Post Mortem is available for sale from Peperoni Books