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Postcards of Dead Bodies: Grim Souvenirs From The Mexican Revolution

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Would you send a postcard featuring the picture of a dead body of a pile of charred corpses? In this gallery we look at unusual and unsettling postcards from the Mexican Revolution, held by the DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. Some of the postcards from 1910-1920 show dead bodies, the remains of people executed in judgement and killed in combat. To call the pictures grim is to make an understatement. They might be ghoulish and voyeuristic, but they are valid historical records and curios. We don’t know what you’d write on the reverse – ‘Wish you were here!’ is unlikely, even when steeped in pitch-black humor. You can write anything you like on a postcard, or nothing at all. We can debate their purpose – was it to convey to the people back home the horrors of war? To titillate? To provoke? Are the postcards without artifice, snapshots of the banal? If life seen through a lens economises the truth is choosing death for a subject an effort to produce something as close to unquestionable fact as a photograph can achieve? Or are the pictures stylized, allowing us to ‘see how something looks photographed’, designed to reflect the uncertainty and chaos of war?

They can certainly make us think.

As said, the images hereunder are grim.

 

A Victim of the Executing Squad, 1913. Mexico

A Victim of the Executing Squad, 1913, a postcard by Walter H. Horne

 

Many of the photographs were taken by Walter H. Horne, regarded as documentary photographer.

Leonard Folgarait, Professor of History of Art at Vanderbilt University, has written about how such brutal photographs help to define a national identity for Mexico. “Photographs are quotations of time, edits out of the historical whole, seeming to picture events only,” he writes. “I want to suggest that they also picture conditions. How the Revolution changed from an event of some precise duration to a condition, an image, of infinite historical extension, is strongly related to the behavior of photography.”

“Photographs have to be seen as historical events themselves, not so much linked to context as much as being context all along, forming that context as much as did other sorts of events, such as battles, speeches, or printed documents.”

 

Title: [Mexican man kneeling beside dead body] Creator: Unknown Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: [Mexican man kneeling beside dead body]
Date: ca. 1910-1917

Photographs turn the present into past, make contingency into destiny. Whatever their degree of “realism,” all photographs embody a “romantic” relation to reality.

I am thinking of how the poet Novalis defined Romanticism: to make the familiar appear strange, the marvelous appear commonplace. The camera’s uncanny mechanical replication of persons and events performs a kind of magic, both creating and de-creating what is photographed. To take pictures is, simultaneously, to confer value and to render banal.

– Susan Sontag, Portraits in Life and Death

 

Title: [Dead bodies on a Mexican battlefield] Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: 1913

Title: [Dead bodies on a Mexican battlefield]
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: 1913

Title: [Dead bodies on a Mexican battlefield] Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: 1913

Title: [Dead bodies on a Mexican battlefield]
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: 1913

Title: Triple execution in Mexico #2 Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: January 15, 1916

Title: Triple execution in Mexico #2
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: January 15, 1916

Title: Triple execution in Mexico #3 Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: January 15, 1916

Title: Triple execution in Mexico #3
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: January 15, 1916

Dead on the battlefield Title: Dead on the battlefield Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: 1913

Dead on the battlefield
Title: Dead on the battlefield
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: 1913

Bodies of 3 men lying as they fell after being executed. Title: Bodies of 3 men lying as they fell after being executed. Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: January 15, 1916

Bodies of 3 men lying as they fell after being executed.
Title: Bodies of 3 men lying as they fell after being executed.
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: January 15, 1916

Triple execution in Mexico Title: Triple execution in Mexico Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: January 15, 1916 Place: Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico Part Of: Collection of Walter H. Horne photographs Series: Triple Execution in Mexico Series Description: This image is one of a group of photographs by Horne known as the 'triple execution' series. It depicts the execution of three condemned prisoners for allegedly stealing military supplies. The victims, Francisco Rojas, Juan Aguilar and Jose Moreno were executed on January 15th, 1916, at the Northwest Railroad Station, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Vanderwood and Samponaro 1988, 68)

Triple execution in Mexico
Title: Triple execution in Mexico
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: January 15, 1916
Place: Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico
Part Of: Collection of Walter H. Horne photographs
Series: Triple Execution in Mexico Series
Description: This image is one of a group of photographs by Horne known as the ‘triple execution’ series. It depicts the execution of three condemned prisoners for allegedly stealing military supplies. The victims, Francisco Rojas, Juan Aguilar and Jose Moreno were executed on January 15th, 1916, at the Northwest Railroad Station, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Vanderwood and Samponaro 1988, 68)

Title: [Mexican soldiers, one aiming rifle and one on horseback] Creator: W. F. Stuart Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: [Mexican soldiers, one aiming rifle and one on horseback]
Creator: W. F. Stuart
Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: Andres Garcia. Gen. Alvaro Obregon Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: Andres Garcia. Gen. Alvaro Obregon
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: Yncineracion de cadaveres en Balbuena Creator: Tinoco, Samuel [attributed] Date: 1913

Title: Yncineracion de cadaveres en Balbuena
Creator: Tinoco, Samuel [attributed]
Date: 1913

Title: F. Villas man killed in battle Nov 2, 1915 1/2 mile south of Agua Prieta Mexico. Creator: Osbon, Cal (Calvin C.), 1849-1924 Date: February 6, 1916

Title: F. Villas man killed in battle Nov 2, 1915 1/2 mile south of Agua Prieta Mexico.
Creator: Osbon, Cal (Calvin C.), 1849-1924
Date: February 6, 1916

Title: Veracruz Mex. Killed in front of Hotel Diligencias Creator: Unknown Date: ca. April 1914

Title: Killed in front of Hotel Diligencias
Creator: Hadsell
Date: ca. April 1914

Title: F. Villas men. These men was executed too [sic] miles op. Agua Prieta Mexico. Jan 1916. Creator: J. Snow Date: February 8, 1916

Title: F. Villas men. These men was executed too [sic] miles op. Agua Prieta Mexico. Jan 1916.
Creator: J. Snow
Date: February 8, 1916

Title: Revolucionarios muertos en Chupeque. Creator: C. C. Harris Foto Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: Revolucionarios muertos en Chupeque.
Creator: C. C. Harris Foto
Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: Street Scene, Juarez, Mex. Creator: Unknown Date: ca.1 910-1919

Title: Street Scene, Juarez, Mex.
Creator: Unknown
Date: ca.1 910-1919

Title: Refugees at the border - awaiting admission to the U. S., U. S. Troops on the Rio Grande watching the Mexican Side. Creator: Unknown Contributors: Stein, Mex (publisher) Date: 1914

Title: Refugees at the border – awaiting admission to the U. S., U. S. Troops on the Rio Grande watching the Mexican Side.
Creator: Unknown
Contributors: Stein, Mex (publisher)
Date: 1914

Title: Spot where Pres. Madero & Vice Pres. of Mex. were killed, In front of the National Palace - Mexico City. Creator: Unknown Contributors: Stein, Max (publisher) Date: 1914

Title: Spot where Pres. Madero & Vice Pres. of Mex. were killed, In front of the National Palace – Mexico City.
Creator: Unknown
Contributors: Stein, Max (publisher)
Date: 1914

Title: The Doctor's Examination after an Execution. Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 Date: January 15, 1916

Title: The Doctor’s Examination after an Execution.
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921
Date: January 15, 1916

Title: Gen. Pancho Villa Raid on Columbus, New Mexico, March 9th, at 4 A.M., 1916. Creator: Osbon, Cal (Calvin C.), 1849-1924 Date: ca. 1910-1918

Title: Gen. Pancho Villa Raid on Columbus, New Mexico, March 9th, at 4 A.M., 1916.
Creator: Osbon, Cal (Calvin C.), 1849-1924
Date: ca. 1910-1918

Title: Federal Mexican firing line corner - calle Independencia at Hotel Diligencias, first day Apr. 21 Creator: Hadsell Date: ca. April 1914

Title: Federal Mexican firing line corner – calle Independencia at Hotel Diligencias, first day Apr. 21
Creator: Hadsell
Date: ca. April 1914

Title: Orozco Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 [attributed] Date: 1915

Title: Orozco
Creator: Horne, Walter H., 1883-1921 [attributed]
Date: 1915

Title: After a fire in the oil district, Tampico. Creator: Unknown Date: 1914

Title: After a fire in the oil district, Tampico.
Creator: Unknown
Date: 1914

Title: Constitutional Soldiers in Action. Creator: Runyon, Robert, 1881-1968 Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: Constitutional Soldiers in Action.
Creator: Runyon, Robert, 1881-1968
Date: ca. 1910-1917

Title: Sand Storm in Training Camp. Creator: Unknown Date: ca. 1916-1917


Title: Sand Storm in Training Camp.
Date: ca. 1916-1917
Creator: Osbon, Cal (Calvin C.), 1849-1924 [attributed]
Date: November 2, 1915

Via: SMU

  • Mark Armacost

    This is the best site ever. Incredible curating with a minimum of pseudointellectual commentary. The commentary that does exist is no nonsense, well informed and humorous. You guys must all be librarians.