This post was originally published on December 1, 2014.
In Western cultures, we tend to avoid death at all costs. We avoid thinking about it and talking about it, and when faced with it, we often go to extraordinary measures to delay it.
Photographer Cathrine Ertmann decided to confront death head-on. Her project "About Dying" is a "photo essay from the morgue" that "works as a description of what death looks like." She says, "[It] tries to break down the taboo by showing something we rarely have access to and that death can be both hard to look at and also beautiful...It is one of the only things we all share, regardless of gender, nationality, age, or language."
Ertmann's photos are hard to look at (spoiler alert: graphic pictures of the deceased are ahead), but they serve as a point of entry to a seemingly inapproachable subject. They render death more accessible, more comprehensible.
"I think there is something very human and healthy in having a relation to death," Ertmann states, "how it looks, smells, and how it's a transition that we will all experience."
There is some indication that the cultural mentality about death is shifting — that we're willing to begin having those difficult conversations about an event that is both natural and inevitable. Last month, a 29-year-old cancer patient Brittany Maynard reinvigorated the discussion on the meaning of "a good death" when she announced her decision to end her own life. Ideology-fueled arguments over the correctness of her decision, and about death in general, often lack a personal angle. Sometimes, in debating death, we forget that it's not an abstract concept. Ertmann hopes that "About Death" will illustrate "the incomprehensible fact that life ends, and hopefully remind the audience that our time here is precious and what things really matter while we are here."
Ahead, 19 striking photos show what death really looks like, with captions from the photographer.