British photographer Nick Veasey creates deceptively simple "X-rays" of objects big and small, from cell phones and baby dolls to bulldozers and jumbo jets. The reason they're deceptive is because many of them are not single X-rays at all. They're complex collages, made up of many X-rays that are carefully assembled and manipulated in Photoshop. Veasey produces work for ad campaigns and art galleries the world over. Click ahead for a look at his oeuvre, and more information about his process.
Veasey practices a unique form of defamiliarization, making the mundane mysterious again.
"The most common and everyday things look beautiful when they're X-rayed," Veasey told the BBC. "Equally, other things you pick up that you think will make a fantastic shot sometimes disappoint you. I've been doing it for...years, and I'm surprised every time I shoot."
Veasey sometimes adds color to his work, choosing hues based not necessarily on reality, but for how they enhance an image. Among other things, he says, color can help add depth to an otherwise two-dimensional work.
This image serves as an excellent example of Veasey's method when it comes to complex (and improbable) pieces. It looks like he simply hunted down some sort of gigantic X-ray machine, had it trucked into a hangar, and fired off a giant X-ray. Not so. He actually received 500 or so individual plane parts in crates, unboxed them, and X-rayed them one by one. (Vesey has his own, house-size, custom-built X-Ray facility. He has also rented shipping-container-size X-ray machines used by safety inspectors to examine plane parts.) Once the components were X-rayed, he and his team constructed the "single" X-ray in Photoshop. It took three months to pull off, and cost thousands of dollars. If you look hard, you may be able to pick out people in this shot. Actually, they're not people at all. At least not living ones. Read on for more about that.
Three X-rays of a dress reveal Vesey's stitching technique. The vast majority of objects he X-rays are shot full-size. That is, they're positioned above a piece of film at least their size, and the resulting X-ray is as large as the object itself. Veasey then scans these with a huge scanner, and drops them into Photoshop for manipulation.
Veasey says lightweight objects such as feathers--or, as here, bat wings--are the most difficult things to capture well with X-rays. In a work like this, he would have taken care to manipulate the image in such a way as to show each of the different parts of the bat--the dense body and the lighter wings--to their best advantage.
As with the jumbo jet, Veasey shot many of the parts of this Mini separately and collaged them together. That allowed him to work with layers, and show the door, the seat, the steering wheel, and other objects with equal clarity.
To get the level of detail he needs, Veasey has to expose objects to far more radiation than is produced by a typical medical X-ray. That rules out using actual living humans as models. He's worked with a skeleton named Frida for years. She was originally used by radiologists-in-training but has now become an art star of sorts, playing many different roles (she's even populated an entire bus--while driving it at the same time). Veasey poses Frida and X-rays her separately; then he drops her into an image, using Photoshop.
Veasey also sometimes uses recently deceased people as models. He says he's "in the queue" for bodies that have been donated to science and art. (Perhaps this fellow had a heart attack while trying to silence his cell during a performance of Mahler.)