Shapes And Forms
The shapes and forms are recognizable, yet the level of detail is deeper than the human eye can normally perceive: Leaves appear minutely laced and surfaces are impossibly intricate, somewhere between translucent and opaque. Welcome to the captivating work of photographer Harold Davis and radiologist Dr. Julian Köpke, who combine their skill, passion, and vision to create stunning X-ray photography and pioneering fusion images.
Revealing The Unseen
Entitled Revealing the Unseen, the project features photos of flowers (as well as some other objects from nature) captured via a medical X-ray machine. Some are additionally captured and processed using a special light box technique, to add color and texture to the monochrome x-ray images.
The process involves arranging the flowers atop a digital sensor and then exposing them to X-rays using a mammography machine -- a device ordinarily used to screen for breast cancer. X-rays are electromagnetic radiation with a short wavelength that’s not visible to the human eye. Objects absorb and let through X-rays at different rates depending on their density, resulting in images that allow us to effectively ‘see through’ things that are ordinarily opaque.
Unlike their analog predecessors, digital X-ray images can be inverted, so that the “radio-opaque” sections (the dark parts that radiation could not penetrate) become white, just as we see on the visible spectrum. When applied to subjects like flowers, the results are strikingly detailed. “It is exciting to understand that photography is a matter of capturing light waves (radiation), whatever the spectrum of those waves,” says Davis.
Davis and Köpke had been friends for some time before embarking on this collaboration. In addition to his work as a medical doctor and radiologist, Köpke is a physicist, with an interest in photography, painting, and music. Davis, as well as working professionally as a photographer and artist, is a writer, technologist, and computer programmer. “I think we have a similar level of intellectual curiosity about the world,” he says.
Digital botanical art has been an important part of Davis’s practice since he switched to digital photography back in 2004. Along the way, he developed a technique for combining high-key HDR photography with post-production processes to create the effect of transparency. Once he met Köpke, the progression to x-rays seemed almost inevitable. “It was a natural move since Julian had access to this equipment through his radiology practice,” he explains.
After achieving inspiring results with the digital X-ray photos, Köpke came up with the idea to apply Davis’s HDR lightbox technique to create fusion images. Aligned on a clear, rigid plexiglass sheet, the flowers are exposed to both X-ray and visible light photography. Those images are then overlaid and processed in Photoshop - to create the incredible detail, color, and translucency of the final pieces.
Using flowers as a subject for x-ray imaging is not new. From the early days of radiography, artists experimented with botanical subjects, and in the 1980s the technique was popularized by the successful fine art poster work of Stephen N. Meyers. But thanks to their combined creativity, expertise, and access to the technology, Davis and Köpke’s project breaks new ground: their work fusing X-ray captures with visible light photography has never been done before.
The company behind the mammography system was so impressed with the project that it commissioned a calendar, which is already in print and available across German-speaking Europe. Meanwhile, Davis and Köpke are planning to continue their collaboration, with new ideas and potential exhibitions in the pipeline. In Davis’s words, “We are only at the beginning!”
*Very special thanks to Davis and Köpke from the team at Pixsy for the amazing insight you've given us into your creative process, we're delighted to have you as part of our community!