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Exposure

This Artist Takes Photos Of Her Own Menstrual Blood

Jen Lewis's macro photography aims to kill the stigma surrounding menstruation.

  • <p>Jen Lewis and her husband take photos of menstrual blood that can often be interpreted as other things. In this photo, titled "Tree," the subtle grey bar along the left is actually the separation between salt water and fresh water that the Lewis' couple use to fill the fish tank where they stage their photos. "It only looks like a tree because of the way it’s oriented," Lewis says. The image was rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, created the illusion of blood spreading horizontally.</p>
  • <p>In this series, titled "Making Bubbles," Lewis employed a chopstick to spread the blood through the water (you can see the chopstick in the second photo down on the left). "I like to use the chopsticks to stir the water so we can spread [the blood] out and get another look at what it's doing in there," she says.</p>
  • <p>Lewis named this photo "Cotton Candy Painted Blue." The blue hue in the background was purely accidental, an effect of the construction lights she uses in lieu of regular studio lights.</p>
  • 01 /07

    Jen Lewis and her husband take photos of menstrual blood that can often be interpreted as other things. In this photo, titled "Tree," the subtle grey bar along the left is actually the separation between salt water and fresh water that the Lewis' couple use to fill the fish tank where they stage their photos. "It only looks like a tree because of the way it’s oriented," Lewis says. The image was rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, created the illusion of blood spreading horizontally.

  • 02 /07

    In this series, titled "Making Bubbles," Lewis employed a chopstick to spread the blood through the water (you can see the chopstick in the second photo down on the left). "I like to use the chopsticks to stir the water so we can spread [the blood] out and get another look at what it's doing in there," she says.

  • 03 /07

    Lewis named this photo "Cotton Candy Painted Blue." The blue hue in the background was purely accidental, an effect of the construction lights she uses in lieu of regular studio lights.

  • 04 /07
  • 05 /07
  • 06 /07
  • 07 /07

Jen Lewis creates gorgeous photographs using a medium that rarely sees the light of day: menstrual blood. While working at University of Michigan's Division of Infectious Diseases, Lewis became interested in bioartography, photos taken during the scientific process.

After she started using a menstrual cup in 2012, Lewis wondered why the copious blood seen in violent movies and on television was seen as acceptable, while the blood she flushed down the toilet was so taboo. So she stared work with her husband to photograph her own blood, pouring it into an empty toilet while he shot with a DLSR camera outfitted with a macro lens. The macro lens in particular allowed them to take a substance viewed as shameful and disgusting and use it to create something beautiful and mutable.

Over the last few years, Lewis's process has evolved as she experimented with different methods, producing wildly different visual effects. After her husband took a class on liquid photography, they switched from the toilet to a small fish tank filled with half freshwater and half saltwater. Then, instead of working in "real time," Lewis began saving the blood in a refrigerator. This allowed any solid bits to settle to the bottom, which she believes gives the photos in her new series Beauty In Blood a more fluid quality. "They seem to be more about movement and less about texture," she says.

The photos above were created using a chopstick to spread out the blood in the water, while in other series she has employed everything from pipettes to turkey basters. Some of the less traditional tools she's used include a Christmas ornament and a broken wine glass. "I have a tendency to look around at things and think 'I wonder what that would do,'" she says.

More than just pure experimentation or senseless provocation, Lewis hopes these photos can help decrease the stigma still so strongly associated with menstruation. "I always find it amusing when people say I do this for shock value," she told Co.Design. "I'm very mainstream."

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