Light painting with a MacBook Pro and a cadaver

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Painting with light is a favorite low-tech project of DSLR owners. You put the camera on a tripod in a dark setting, set the shutter speed to an extra long exposure, and create designs with a flashlight or other focused light source.

Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott have taken that concept and given it a beautiful and eerie new spin using a MacBook Pro, a Hasselblad H2 camera with a digital back, and 1,871 photographed cross-sections of an executed murderer's cadaver. Project 12:31 is the resulting series of seven long-exposure photographs that show ghostly figures floating in outdoor settings. The images were captured by moving the laptop during the exposure while it played an animation of the compiled images.

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The cadaver in question belongs to Joseph Paul Jernigan, a Texas death row inmate who had killed an elderly man when the man caught Jernigan stealing a microwave oven. Just before his execution by lethal injection in 1993, Jernigan donated his body for use in scientific or medical research. It ended up becoming part of the Visual Human Project, a U.S. National Library of Medicine effort to create detailed 3D models of the human body. Jernigan's body was frozen and then cross segmented by grinding off one millimeter at a time. After each layer was removed, the resulting cross-section of the body was photographed. Those 1,871 film photographs were then scanned, and the scanned photos eventually turned into an animation.

Croix Gagnon, who art-directed the series, had been experimenting with long-exposure photography for three years when he stumbled across the Visible Human Project on Wikipedia. “I’m interested in intellectual property issues and capital punishment, and I wanted this project to prompt conversations about both,” Gagnon told Macworld. Frank Schott was brought on board as the photographer, and Alex Katz did post-production. The final images produced by the group show bright, reconstituted figures in moody nighttime scenes.

One of Gagnon's favorite parts of the project was using a well-known photography technique in a unique new way. “From a technical perspective, this project could have been completed decades ago. There's nothing particularly high-tech about our process.”

Prints of the seven images in Project 12:31 are for sale on the project's Website, with all profits going to Amnesty International.

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