Week 3 response: Amazing X-ray art

I was very much impressed by the topic on X-ray during lecture, for I never thought that X-ray can also be a medium for producing amazing works of art. At the same time, I was terribly saddened by the tragic ends of most of the early adapters of this medium for art and science. Nevertheless, even though these x-ray operators died early or were severely harmed by the overdose of radiation from repeated exposure to X-ray, their sacrifices were not in vain as their work and experience both provide immeasurable contributions for the posterity. As such, we now know how to properly utilize this indispensable tool for medical diagnostics, as well as for future experimental arts.

From the lecture, we learned about one such pioneering x-ray operator, Elizabeth Fleischmann, who acquired the reputation “as the most expert woman radiographer of the world” according to her obituary. Her famous work was how she utilized X-ray to study the details of human feet while wearing shoes. People probably have never before seen how the bones, tendons and muscles of the foot conform to shoes.

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Though she died early because of the lack of knowledge about radiation exposure, her idea of looking at foot structures inside the shoes would survive in present day custom orthodics design (“Custom Orthodics”) and x-ray bioart (see next paragraph). Another example from the lecture featured Robert Janker’s X-ray study of inner body motions such as the eating and swallowing processes inside of our body. His x-ray motion films allowed us to gain detail knowledge of those processes and advanced medical science progress, though the amount of radiation dosage would most likely be prohibitive today. Though tragic, it was the overwhelming incidences of radiation poisoning and death that raised attention about radiation exposure, and that would eventually usher in more careful studies and stricter regulation on radiation usage (“First Fifty years of Radiation Protection”). Thus, both doctors and artists nowadays can still practice with this enigmatic medium to create art pieces with different kind of objects as long as they are careful with the dosage and protection.

One such contemporary x-ray artist that benefited from his forerunners is Hugh Turvey, whose works can be viewed at http://www.x-rayartist.com/. Hugh was born in Chippenham, Wiltshire, and he studied at Swindon Art College and the Royal Berkshire College of Art and Design. While being an apprentice to photographer Gered Mankowitz of the UK’s leading rock photographers, Hugh Turvey began experimenting with X-ray photography on a commission to create a “revealing” image for an album cover. After that, he got attracted by the beautiful pictures that can be formed through X-ray, and started to work on a new type of Rayogram, wherein the object’s shadow was not only exterior, but also interior. He termed this medium as a “xogram”, which means a mash-up between x-ray and photogram, created by placing an object on light-sensitive paper.

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The photo above is an example of such xogram, made through scanned his wife’s foot in a high stiletto using X-ray. Similar to Elizabeth Fleischmann’s work, Hugh Turvey’s xogram allowed one to “actually physically see [what the foot is going through] and to see the angle of the bones” (“X-ray Art”), but unlike Fleischmann, Hugh and his wife are protected by the knowledge of the dangers that x-rays posses.

Sometimes a new medium that we don’t know much about might bring harmful consequences, but that does not mean we should run away from this new medium. Instead, we must take care to study its nature and effects. Once we know more about the risks and know how to safeguard against them, we have the potential to be enabled with an additional beautiful media for creative outlet.

Yinrou Wang










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