Memento Mori: Paul Koudounaris Photographs the World of the Dead

Dr. Paul Koudounaris photographed the often vibrant realm where the distinction between the living and dead ceases to exist for his new book Memento Mori.
A skull wearing sunglasses from Memento Mori by Paul Koudounaris
Photo from the La Paz skull festival in Bolivia by Paul Koudounaris

Dr. Paul Koudounaris, author of the macabre and fascinating The Empire of Death and Heavenly Bodies, is known for his beautiful photos of the dead.

His new book is no exception, as it explores the relationship between the living and the dead in cultures where there is very little distinction between the two.

Through photos taken at more than 250 sites in thirty countries over a decade, Paul Koudounaris has captured death around the world. From Bolivia’s “festival of the little pug-nosed ones,” where skulls are festooned with flowers and given cigarettes to smoke and beanie hats to protect them from the weather to Indonesian families who dress mummies and include them in their household routines; from naturally preserved Buddhist monks and memorials to genocide in Rwanda and Cambodia to the dramatic climax of Europe’s great ossuaries, Memento Mori defies taboo to demonstrate how the dead continue to be present in the lives of people everywhere.

kolin 18th century charnel house in the Czech Republic from the book Memento Mori
The Kolin charnel house in the Czech Republic. Photo by Paul Koudounaris.

Memento Mori book by Dr. Paul KoudounarisMemento Mori: The Dead Among Us

Death is universal, but the human response to death varies widely. In Western society, death is usually medicalized and taboo, and kept apart from the world of the living, while in much of the rest of the world, and for much of human history, death has commonly been far more integrated into peoples’ daily existence, and human remains are as much a reminder of life, memento vitae, as of death, memento mori.


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