Give us a little background. When did you first develop an interest in art?
I trained as a designer / art director but on discovering photography retrained under iconic photographer Gered Mankowitz. During 1996 /1997 I started experimenting with X-ray/shadow photography after being asked to create an alternative ‘revealing’ image for an album cover. With the encouragement of the Science Photo Library I went on to produce an extensive series of coloured X-rays of everyday objects, which were first published on the 4th April 1999 in The Observer Magazine, LIFE, UK. In the same year Credit Suisse discovered my X-ray vision and commissioned six ground breaking ‘motion X-ray’ European TV commercials. To date my work features in many international campaigns, publications and collections worldwide. My most recent large solo exhibition (Oxo Gallery, London) was entitled X-perimentalist. It was a phenomenal success and attracted over 8,500 visitors.
What made you choose X-ray? What does x-ray represent to you?
In my experience anyone who works within radiography has moments outside of the normal job remit and curiosity drives them to x-ray objects in easy reach: their shoe, their hand, their wife’s hand etc. This was certainly true for Roentgen (the first x-ray of his wife Anna Bertha’s hand) and it was the same for me. One of my earliest images is of my wife Artemi’s leg taken over 14 years ago when she was 28. It is a beautiful x-ray image that I hand coloured of her tibia, fibula, ossa tarsi, metatarsals and phalanges or simply titled ‘foot in stiletto’. It is a modern scientific vision of a ‘femme fatale’ … the allure of the woman in a stiletto and the visual insight to how the foot is indubitably contorted. Beauty is not skin deep.
You are an artist in Residence at the British Institute of Radiology in London. Could you tell us more about that?
My residency at The BIR enables me to access historical collections, libraries, establish a permanent exhibition at the BIR and explore the creative potential in the area between medical knowledge, the use of X-ray and the image’s power to communicate. I hope to de-mystify the processes and technology used in diagnostics, to help engage the public and to increase their understanding of the science.
What is your perspective on X-ray as a form of art?
For example: I have some images in a new exhibition curated by The Royal Photographic Society in the UK . They have just launched The International Images for Science Exhibition 2011 and my friend Afzal shares my opinion:
‘The art aspect of photography is well propagated and covered by the number of exhibitions that display visual art such as documentary, landscape, portraiture, travel, creative and architectural photography. However, it is not often that we see an exhibition of scientific photography. To the best of my knowledge, The Society’s last exhibition of scientific and applied photography was in London in 1974. The public at large is well aware of the art aspects of photography, but not so well informed about the important role that it plays in scientific disciplines. This perhaps is understandable, given that most scientific imagery remains within the specialist scientific arena in the form of material for assessment, evaluation, diagnosis, measurements, publications and research documentation. The scientific disciplines in which photography plays an important role include medicine, forensic sciences, engineering fundamental research, archaeology, oceanography, natural history, astronomy, aviation, microscopy and endoscopy and many more. It is hoped that this exhibition will serve as a showcase for the vast range of applications of photography within modern-day science’.
Afzal Ansary ASIS FRPS
International Images for Science Exhibition 2011
Where do you find your inspiration for your art?
The consequence of in and out, the visible and invisible, the search for transparency – transparency in all things comes from openness, insight and honesty. I love the study of semiotics – the interpretation and the simple pleasure of seeing in a new light.
My early influence came from Russian Constructivist concepts (most notably the work of Alexander Rodchenko: "the lens of his camera discovered objects of unusual architecture, rhythm, and plasticity") and the extensive and innovative high speed and stroboscopic photographic studies by Dr Harold E Edgerton which explore the "ingenuity behind the creativity" and "seeing the unseen".
What makes something great to X-ray?
X-ray is a shadow of an objects volume, a visual recording of its solidity, an inside outside representation. X-raying any object provides a range of challenges technically and creatively. I have over time created a very clear picture in my minds-eye how an object will appear in x-ray from gaging its’ weight, construction and age…the expectation is part of what makes the process great. This is my ‘x-ray specs’.
The toaster image for example was created by completely pulling the object apart, x-raying each individual component and then building the pieces back together in the correct positions to make the toaster x-ray. The reason I did this was to have the flexibility to animate the toast popping out…to demonstrate its’ purpose.
I’m a little toaster
Short and stout
Bread goes in
Toast pops out
(Hugh Turvey copyright)
What would you dream to X-ray one day?
Spaceships and aliens.
How difficult is the production process?
I love shooting on film. The hands on approach and the manipulation of technique: overexposure, multiple exposure, chemical processing, filtering, rigs, mechanics, physics, happy accidents, trial and error. I do not work exclusively with one set of equipment as this would limit my creativity and experimentation. I tailor the equipment to requirement. I.e. to capture a small insect of low density is very different to that of capturing the heavy densities of a sports motorbike.
There is a technique to produce photographic images without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a photo-sensitive paper and then exposing it to light. These are called a photogram (or as Man Ray called the "rayographs" ) and it is one of the first photographic imaging techniques’ ever used by William Fox Talbot (and he called them “photogenic drawings”). Simply put, the only difference between my x-ray images and the photograms produced by the early photographic pioneers is the frequency of the ‘light’ used to expose the ‘paper’. I have created (unlike the 'Roentgenogram' which is pertaining to the originators name) a more generic term ' XOGRAM ' to define my x-ray images within the context of my photographic background and the crossover of my visible light and x-ray images. My other term' XOGRAFIA ' defines the act of producing xograms.
Why do you think people are fascinated by X-ray images?
There is a comic fantasy of ‘x-ray specs’. The idea that by just wearing special glasses an ordinary person can reveal a hidden truth….this is just awe inspiring idea….even for a 40 year old like me.
One of my favourite popular culture ‘x-ray specs’ moments:
This concept of revealing truth is one of the simplest structures in storytelling and for me simply exemplified in the 1999 film ‘The Matrix’ when Neo (Keanu Reeves) has his epiphany, perceives his true environment and its structure of the Matrix is revealed to him…it is a glorious moment of self-realisation giving birth to strength, understanding and purpose. I probably take this one example too literally but seeing ‘into’ the world around you is empowering and inspiring.
What would your predictions be for the future of X-ray?
Technology is moving fast and the devices on which to show my work are amazing. I am currently involved in an iPad project called ‘ X is for X-ray’ (due for release December). The unique feature is that all of the objects can be viewed in 360° not only in visible light but also in X-Ray, allowing magical and unprecedented 3D exploration of the interior structure of each object. A horizontal swipe rotates while a vertical swipe moves smoothly between visible and X-Ray views, both of which are captured at high resolution from every angle. This represents a breakthrough in visualizing the complex interior of solid objects. I also look at the CT and MRI technologies and the volumetric reconstruction of data and get excited. I think the advances in customs large x-ray devices offer a whole other dimension and scale.
What has led to this collaboration between you and Canyon?
An invitation by Canyon to add an x-ray edition to their already successful limited edition range of accessories and their genius in letting me have my name on the product ( which was a no brainer)….who wouldn’t have their name on 230000 products…call me vain!
How do you think it will be perceived by the artistic community and consumers alike?
I am being invited more and more to exhibit my work and can only conclude that this is because there is an appreciation of it by the artistic community and the public. Having images on products is really exciting for me. I have been given the opportunity to showcase my work to completely new audiences.
How was it to collaborate with a computer accessories brand like Canyon?
I started my career in the commercial world and relished the opportunity to work with Canyon to create the imagery for the products. They were very free with the brief and very easy going. It has been fun.
What are you looking to achieve with this collaboration?
Every project is different and the collaboration with Canyon has been a great challenge to translate my imagery onto different surfaces. I hope to reach a new audience for my work, make new friends and explore new possibilities to exhibit my work in Europe.
If possibilities were endless, what would you have liked to create for Canyon?
I would have liked to get more involved with the constructional elements of the products. It would have been great to explore materials for the products, incorporate more ideas of transparency…multi layered images that have depth into the product. Also explore intelligent, selective illumination of images using high tech micro light panels (that could be kinetically powered).
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