Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary
Capturing the “Moment”: Photography, Film, and Death’s Elusive Duration
Chapter 1 situates digital efforts to record death within a long history of photographic and filmic attempts from the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 through the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The chapter unifies disparate images—Civil War and lynching photographs, early cinema’s execution films, images from Nazi concentration camps, home movie footage of President Kennedy’s assassination, and television news coverage of the Vietnam War—through their struggle to capture the “moment of death.” It argues that such attempts form a collective and enduring fantasy for documentarians and their audiences, one that cannot be fully realized because cameras cannot make visible a definitive “moment” within an opaque, durational process of dying. The relative paucity of success in capturing death on celluloid also highlights film’s specific technological limitations in that task.