The Prospect of Immortality

Murray Ballard is an English Photographer, that has just published a book about Cryogenic freezing. He was a recent guest lecturer and his talk was very informative as I have never really looked or thought about this subject. Ballard’s project started during the second year of his BA degree at Brighton University in 2006 and took nine years to complete.

Ballard’s interest in photography started during his foundation degree after he was working on moving image, however his tutors pointed him in the direction of photography and he started to show the ‘behind scenes’ of his short films. A book of Jeff Wall’s work inspired him into making work in this style. Also, Gregory Crewdson’s work ‘Twilight’ inspired him to make his own ‘poor man’s version.’

His flatmate at the time was interested in the series ‘Red River’ by Jem Southham and then he started looking at some work like this as he liked the idea of just walking with the camera. Then he went with his flatmate to Alec Soth’s ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’, which had a very large impact on him and made him think ‘the real world is more interesting than the made up.’

This led him to read Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ and started to look at the relationship between photography and death. Then created a list about how we are remembered, such as taxidermy, mummies and cryogenics. This pushed him to start photographing the taxidermy at the Natural History Museum closest to him.

The main centre for cryogenics is in Michigan, America and called the Cryogenics Centre, at this point he didn’t have enough money to get there and it was unlikely they would just open the doors to let Ballard in. Therefore, he started looking in the UK and eventually found a chat on Yahoo that organised a meeting, therefore he looked into this and went to the meeting, which turned out to be only a twenty-minute drive away. He went and met the person in charge of the cryogenics moment in the UK, Allen Sinclair and his wife, Silvia, they sat and spoke and then the Sinclair’s showed him the garden which had the parts for the equipment involved in the process, it was among car parts as this was Allen’s other interests. They then opened their home to him as he went often and took several photographs that documented the home and how they lived. At this point they had only had one successful freezing and that was of a head.

Now Ballard got funding by South Square Trust, and this was the first photographer that they supported, it is a small charity but worth knowing about as this was his make or break moment for this project. His first trip to Phoenix, Arizona was in the October took some of the photographs that would be in the final outcome.

Ballard graduated in 2007 but felt as though the project wasn’t finished therefore he continued to developed the project. This work has been exhibited in the Impressionist gallery in Bradford in 2011, it showed all the work up until that point. It has also been printed in magazines and journals. The exhibition was designed so that it was open to the viewer’s interpretation and if they wanted more information or an audio reading they could use the QR code next to the print. They also wanted a book to be made, however this proved too much for the time because the mock ups that had been made became a bit more like a cryogenics book rather than a photography book therefore it got put ‘on the back burner for a bit.’

Later Ballard was nominated for the First Book Award, therefore he needed to get another mock up completed, it didn’t win but he carried on to produce the book and has just published it. A very large influence has been Robert CW Ettingen’s book The Prospect of Immortality published in 1962, they even used this cover for the mock up in the competition. Ballard wanted the cover to be timeless so that it could be thought to be from any time not just now.

 

No matter what, with the subject of cryogenics, there will always be different opinions and everyone will have an opinion on it; after all death affects everyone- especially what to do after death. Are you cremated? Are you buried? Or do you look for an alternative such as cryogenics? This also links into my project, as it is an alternative way to be remembered.

I found this talk very interesting and informative, I learnt a lot, however I’m not sure how much of that was about photography but the dedication to the subject by the people involved and by Murray, this is clearly seen in the images as only the best images are included.  The images have a narrative though them, no matter what the image is of you can see thoughts behind it, predominantly Murray’s thoughts on the subject. However, these images are quiet, they are not bold and in your face as the subject speaks for itself, therefore there isn’t a need for the images to be loud and attention seeking.

 I found it very interesting to learn the process Ballard used to discover this as a subject, and how he has created a project based purely on cryogenics. It could have been much bigger, and I’m sure in the future when this becomes slightly more common at this will be explored in more depth as more people will know about, and not just think that it is just for rich people and something of the future.

This talk has also made me question life after death and if there is a possibility if we can come back from it. I have found that it has made me ask a lot of questions about the subject for example: when you die and frozen, sometimes only the head is frozen what happens if they do find the way to bring you back to life and you are just had with nobody? Also, when you die it is of natural causes, therefore if you come back to life surely will still have the same ailments as when you died, for example if you died of cancer, would you come back to life still with cancer, or if you are old and your body could no longer support itself would be still be apparent when you come back? Will you have the same memories, from when you are alive?

I partially found this very bizarre, especially the section where people freeze their pets, after all when you are dead, you are dead. Why would you want to bring your dog or your cat back to life, when they are old and have issues similar to people, for example one of my dogs has been diagnosed with dementia and he’s become very difficult to look after because he doesn’t understand what is going on, why would I want to bring him back to life so he can still have the same problems and not understand what is going on as this is a cruel and degenerate disease? The same question can be asked for people who suffer from dementia, like my step grandfather who recently died after suffering from dementia and a series of strokes, would it be fair to bring them back to life to continue suffering like they have in this lifetime?

The images themselves are well lit and well composed, they show the deceased and the subject matter in a very respectful way, however the images taken in Russia are less caring due to the way the people were moving the bodies, rather than the way Ballard took the photographs.

For images and more information visit Murray Ballard’s website:

http://murrayballard.com/

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