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The thing that I’ve been slowly leading up to with the series of posts on emulsion transfers is a project based on the medical textbook “Gray’s Anatomy”, or to give it it’s full title:

Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical.
Henry Gray, FRS
The Drawings
by H.V. Carter, M.D.

I stumbled across a second-hand facsimile reprint of the first edition in a charity shop and found the figures fascinating. It occurred to me that combining the figures with peeled photos on Impossible film might be interesting, and after trying it I found that it worked much better with full-on transfers, so I scanned some figures, and printed them scaled to match the size of self-portraits of the relevant portion of my body, then transferred the emulsion onto the printed figures.

I’m really pleased with the results, which overlay a translucent version of my skin onto the inner workings of the human body, but also I’ve enjoyed the challenges involved in trying to realise the vision I had when flicking through the book in the shop. Firstly getting the right photo to work from is not easy, especially when I’m stuck with a simple Polaroid 600 box-type camera. Then I discovered that the emulsion expands by about 15-20% when lifted, so you need to account for that in the size of the receiving print. And of course there are the rips and tears, and the general difficulty in matching up the photo with the drawing.

There are over three hundred drawings in the book, and while many of them aren’t suitable for this kind of transfer, there are plenty that are. It’s very interesting to peer into my flesh this way and quite revealing too, in that, in some cases, I had only vague notions of where various organs were, and overlaying my own body onto these drawings somehow makes it clearer than just looking at a diagram. They also show off just how complex the structures of the body are and how many interwoven systems exist beneath the relatively smooth expanse of our skin. Whole networks of lymphatics, veins, arteries and nerves all wind around and between the bones, muscles and organs in mind-boggling fashion. Bearing in mind that the book was originally prepared as a surgical textbook, my respect for the surgeons who have to deal with all this on a regular basis to save people’s lives is certainly deeper than ever.

The slideshow below shows most of the pieces I’ve created so far but you can view them all, and in more detail, in this Flickr set which I’ll update as I continue to explore.

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