I’m not superman, I don’t have x-ray vision. And I’d look particularly unsavoury in skin tight lycra.
But I can find a way to see beyond the surface. Nothing gives me more pleasure (well, very little anyway) than revealing the inner beauty of a subject. The unseen can be seen, the internal elements and workings revealed. The inside becomes the outside.
We live in a world obsessed with image: with what we look like, what our clothes look like, our houses, our cars… I like to counter this obsession with superficial appearance by stripping back the layers and showing what things are like below the surface. Often the integral beauty of the underling structure adds intrigue to the familiar. We all make assumptions based on the external visual appearance of what surrounds us and we are attracted to people and things that are aesthetically pleasing. I like to challenge this automatic way in which we react to external physical appearance by highlighting the, often surprising, inner beauty of things.
This society of ours, obsessed as it is with image, is also becoming increasingly controlled by security measures and surveillance. Take a flight, or go into a high profile courtroom and your belongings will be x-rayed. The post arriving in corporations and government departments has often been x-rayed. Security cameras track our every move. Mobile phone records can place us at any given time. Information is key to the fight against whatever we are meant to be fighting against. To create art with equipment and technology made to help Big Brother delve deeper, to use some of that fancy complicated equipment that helps remove the freedom and individuality in our lives, to use these instruments to create beauty brings a smile to my face. I am no major subversive artist, but I like to see the reaction of people in authority when they see my work. I’m sure they think something along the lines of, “we didn’t spend all this time and money improving x-ray technology, for you to make pretty pictures”. Well I have anyway. You can keep making your advances, and I’ll keep making mine.
Most of us are familiar with the human form in x-ray, so although this book has a chapter devoted to x-rays of the body, I will not dwell here on this aspect of my work. Instead, I would like to take you back to the beginning. Long before I was around, in 1895, Willhelm Roentgen discovered x-rays. The processes I use are fundamentally the same, but technology has helped make the x-ray process quicker, better and safer. Safety is a subject that I pay particular attention to as I’m messing about with some dangerous stuff – Cobalt Iridium, Ionising Radiation, Chemicals… X-Rays are dangerous, especially as they are invisible and have no smell. Look what radiation does to cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy, and that is in therapeutic use. Like many artists before me I am prepared to risk my safety for my art, but I do what I can to minimise that risk. I’ve got two healthy children and all my vital organs still function.
My first x-ray sessions had very mixed results. I was on a steep learning curve at the start, and I’m still learning. Fortunately, after months of experimentation I became more confident and built up a portfolio. I then went to New York to show this early work and luckily a magazine liked what I had to show and ran an article about it. It may seem a melodramatic cliché, but this article was a life-changing moment for me. The interest in my work blossomed. I became a real pest to radiographers, scientists and equipment manufacturers around the world, hassling them for information. What could I achieve with x-ray? How far could I go with it? I am still answering these questions and hope to continue to do so for many years to come.
To create my x-ray images I work in a lead-lined room, with a very heavy lead sliding door that has to be sealed before my x-ray machines will operate. High-voltage electricity is sent to a radioactive source that emits x-rays. The x-rays pass through the subject I’m working on and create a same-sized image on special film placed in a light-safe bag. This film is then processed and edited. In my studio I then use a beast of a high quality scanner that is 4 metres (13 feet) long and weighs 300kg (660 lbs) to turn these images into digital files for enhancement and other digital tweaks on our Macs. We do not use 3-D or any synthetic image creation software.
To capture very fine subjects like flowers and insects, I convert this lead lined room into a darkroom, as I have to rest the subject directly on the film. So I can (vaguely) see what I’m doing, I wear infrared goggles developed for the military. It is surreal; the environment I work in is dirty, basic and industrial, the technology and equipment complicated and dangerous, yet out of all this come pictures of ethereal beauty.
Like many people in the creative community, I find it hard to stop my mind wandering into my work even when I’m not suppose to be working. I often dream about x-ray and sometimes have dreams in x-ray. I have been through the nasty obsessive phase that all artists pass through; looking back, I didn’t really like the way my work changed my personality during that obsessive phase, as it made me arrogant and introspective. Fluctuating fortunes and having children soon got me back on the level though, and my wife Zoe is my rock. I am lucky to be extremely motivated and inspired by the everyday, along with artists such as Bridget Riley, Eadweard Muybridge, Doc Egerton and James Turrell.
I have many x-ray projects still to complete and will continue to refine my technique and processes, but it is fair to say I’ve already pushed image making with x-ray equipment further than any of the other artists who have used this technique. This book shows the depth and range of my work over many years.
I hope the pictures here engage you. We may all say that beauty is more than skin deep, but this collection proves it.
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