British photographer Nick Veasey sometimes dreams in X-ray. His new book, X-Ray: See Through the World Around You, is a collection of 205 radioactively beautiful photographs of everyday objects, nature, and the human body in action. Veasey tells Co.Design, "I love the medium because in an often superficial world, it strips away all the superficial skin of the subject and concentrates on what it’s made from."
It all started 20 years ago, when Veasey was a struggling freelance photographer and was hired to X-ray a Pepsi can for a commercial. He spent the rest of the day X-raying random objects he found lying around, and it quickly turned into an obsession. Now, he owns four powerful machines and keeps them in his basement darkroom, and turns these medical tools into an artistic medium to reveal ghostly inner beauty.
Made stunningly transparent here are the plastic pellet innards of a teddy bear, the skeleton of a crouching linebacker, the tiny factories of chips and coils that make up a cellphone, and the inner construction of a Boeing 777 (!). "Yesterday, I was X-raying an $80,000 motorcycle for a series on iconic vintage cars and motorcycles," he says.
Due to the health risks of radiation, he can't photograph living people, so instead he uses a skeleton of a woman lent to him by the university near his studio. Instead of being pegged together, like many human skeletons used for research, she's kept in one piece by a pressurized rubber suit. "I'll photograph a living human in the pose I want, such as serving a tennis ball, and use that photograph as a kind of outline to pose the skeleton that I X-ray." He'll then X-ray various objects he wants in the composition, like a racket, ball, and sneakers, and Photoshop them into the image of his skeleton friend.
Veasey says one favorite image is the scary bat, whose fangs, tiny ribcage, and paper-thin wings are starkly exposed in the photograph. "I bought it on eBay. You just search fruit bat, and it comes in the mail," he tells Co.Design. It was a "just add water" process—the bat came dried in a Tupperware, but adding moisture reversed the rigor Mortis and allowed Veasey to pose it for its glamor shot. Another favorite of his is a pink perfume box. The bottle sits like a hidden jewel inside glowing layers of cardboard and ribbon. Of his dream X-ray subjects, Veasey says, "I'd love to shoot a tank," he says, "and a giant submarine."
"Many architects are inspired by the patterns found in nature," says Veasey, who gathers natural specimens from conch shells to tulips to beetles. "Gaudi was very much inspired by the natural structures in plants in his buildings in Spain, as was Frank Lloyd Wright."
In addition to skeletons and fruit bats, the photographer's repertoire of subjects now includes humanoid robots, which he borrows from friends in university robotics research programs. "I pose them in human positions— like taking a dump, for example. Or crying. I think a robot crying would draw interesting discussion."
In another project, Veasey X-rays guns from classic movies—Dirty Harry’s magnum 49, Tony "Scarface" Montana’s "little friend" (the M16 rifle). "I wanted to deglamorize guns, which are made so glamorous in these movies." The photographs expose the guns from the inside out, highlighting their brutal function as killing machines instead of making them movie star accessories. "Like every artist, I’m just trying to make people stop and look," he says.
So has he ever used his process to see inside himself? "The hand flipping the bird, that’s mine," he says proudly.