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pet study iii:

man ray/electricité

Pet Study III: Man Ray/Electricité, 2003

Ellen Sandor & (art)n: Keith Miller, Janine Fron and Jack Ludden

Jim Strommer, Digital Media Group, Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, UCLA School of Medicine


Virtual Photograph/PHSCologram: Duratrans, Kodalth, Plexiglas

40 x 30 inches


“The manner in which (art)n builds up the multiple layers of the sculpture echoes in reverse the way that scanning technologies deconstruct the body as a series of planes.  For positron emission tomography, or PET scans, which allow scientists to explore disease at the molecular level in a living patient, a subject is injected with a tracer labeled with short-lived, radioactive pharmaceuticals.  The isotope-tagged material moves through the body, giving off particles called positrons during radioactive decay.


When they collide with electrons, they produce photons.  The photons give off signals that are picked up by the PET scanner, which is a ring of electronic detectors that surrounds the body.  The resulting signals are fed into a computer, which reconstructs them as a picture sequence of planes cut through the body.


But by using the Picabia portrait, (art)n also pointedly includes a third concept about the layering and reproduction of the human form.  In the photograph, the bare-chested artist is said to be imitating the virile posture of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, Monument to Balzac (1897-98), a massive portrait of the famed French novelist.  The portrait photographer Nadar wrote in a memoir that Balzac was afraid to have his picture taken because he believed that “all physical bodies are made up entirely of layers of ghostlike images, an infinite number of leaflike skins laid on top of the other.”  Balzac also thought that man was incapable of “creating something from nothing [and] . . . concluded that every time someone had his photograph taken, one of the spectral layers was removed from the body and transferred to the photograph.”  What one was giving up was “the very essence of life.”


Although Balzac misperceived the way a photographic image is made, his fear can be seen as a prescient vision of scientific capabilities.  Millions of ghostlike layered images have been taken in the name of science.  They reside in laboratories and doctor’s offices around the globe.  Although they have been made for the purpose of preserving, rather than giving up the “essence of life,” it is humbling to know how closely we can inspect life’s origins and inner workings.”


Carol Squires, Curator

excerpt from The Art of Science (2004)

International Center of Photography

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