Memento mori (Latin for “remember you will die”) was a common motif in art and literature from the late Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution, and sought to remind us of our mortality. It reached its zenith in the 17th-century vanitas still-life paintings of skulls, hourglasses and other symbols of brevity.
Today, death is viewed much like sex was by the Victorians: the subject is taboo – avoided, spoken of in euphemisms. It’s an inevitable part of our lives, but we prefer to keep it at arm’s length. Art that explores death and mortality now makes us uncomfortable – reflecting our lives, mirror-like, back at us: Who am I? Where am I going? What have I done?
These images are about time passing, things discarded, endings: my interpretation of memento mori. Superficially, the message seems negative, but it’s not: the photographs remind us that nothing is forever, especially not us, so we should let go of the past, seize opportunities and embrace life.
In earlier periods, memento mori had religious undertones: life is transient and pleasure futile, so be pious and prepare for Divine Judgement. My message is simpler and less sombre, and echoes another Latin phrase – written by Horace 2000 years ago – carpe diem, “seize the day”. Enjoy life before it’s too late.