Students Swallow Film in Controversial Photography Experiment

July 27, 2012 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Film | 5 Comments |
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For their end-of-year project, graphic design and photography students Luke Evans and Josh Lake swallowed pieces of 35mm film for ‘development’ in their stomachs and intestines. The two first year students were responding to a brief they had been set by their lecturers at Kingston University. “The title was ‘Outdoor’. What we decided to do was take things that are normally hidden inside our bodies and display them outside,” Luke explained. “The film was not exposed to light during the experiment, but it has created images nonetheless,” Exposed only to internal fluids, the celluloid revealed its journey with a series of marks, scratches and bumps that, under an electron microscope, created a number of dramatic shapes. “A lot of people think that because no light was used it’s not photography. Technically that’s true, but we feel it doesn’t make it any less intriguing and doesn’t devalue the work at all,” Josh said.

Kingston University Press Release

Photography students find new way to stomach end-of-year project

A jagged mountain range, a star-lit sky, a saw-toothed coastline – not the typical contents of a person’s stomach but these are the product of a photography experiment that saw two Kingston University students swallow 35mm film and frame the results.

Graphic design and photography students Luke Evans and Josh Lake decided to let their bodies do the processing for their end-of-year project. Safely held in a plastic capsule, they swallowed squares of film for ‘development’ in their stomachs and intestines. Exposed only to internal fluids, the celluloid revealed its journey with a series of marks, scratches and bumps that, under an electron microscope, created the dramatic shapes in the images.

“The film was not exposed to light during the experiment, but it has created images nonetheless,” 20 year old Luke from Herefordshire said. “Josh and I have both grown up in the age of digital photography and, of course, nowadays everyone carries a camera around with them on their phones so there’s something fascinating about going back to film because of its texture, its thickness and the way it reacts to being touched.”

The creative duo said they wanted to explore the possibilities of 35mm film at a time when its popularity had diminished. “We’re quite nostalgic, I suppose,” 24 year old Josh from Bristol said. “Film is something that has a lot of rules surrounding its use, but who’s to say that these always have to be followed?” The resulting images were revealed under a microscope, enlarged up to 500 times and then blown up to poster prints of 15,000 by 10,000 pixels.

The two first year students were responding to a brief they had been set by their lecturers at Kingston University. “The title was ‘Outdoor’. What we decided to do was take things that are normally hidden inside our bodies and display them outside,” Luke explained.

The work has attracted a variety of descriptions from people who variously thought the images looked like maps, sculptures, electrical storms or landscapes. “I feel like you really can lose yourself in the prints. There’s so much detail that you can scrutinise the pictures again and again and keep finding different things,” Luke added.

While the work has divided opinion in the art and photography worlds, it has sparked public interest with the pair being featured on Channel 4 News for their exposure-less endeavour. “A lot of people think that because no light was used it’s not photography. Technically that’s true, but we feel it doesn’t make it any less intriguing and doesn’t devalue the work at all,” Josh said.  “If anything, disregarding light and exploring the other characteristics of film is more appealing to us. Just the fact that people are talking about our images – positively or negatively – is why we think the project has been so successful.”

Senior lecturer in photography Paul Jenkins said Luke and Josh had not only recognised the importance of film but had pushed its application to create something new. “The images look like the landscape of a country – or planet – that we’ve never seen before,” he said. “The medium is traditional but the approach is not which is what makes this project so exciting.”

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#1 Warren Lyons

Swallow goldfish. It's safer

3:40 pm - Saturday, July 28, 2012

#2 Casperh39

It is hard to imagine that these are actually film exposed in the body...the film is constantly moving so there is no way for it to have such details...in addition, these look like electron microscopy images..

Casperh39

9:43 pm - Sunday, July 29, 2012

#3 Yan

@ Casperh39

read the article before posting pointless feedback

4:55 pm - Monday, July 30, 2012

#4 DHphotography

I can see why some may not consider this to be Photography, but that does not affect it being a very interesting experiment.

11:49 pm - Monday, July 30, 2012

#5 MCR

I hear the pictures came out like sh*t ;-)

Seriously, though, interesting experiment from both a scientific and artistic point of view. Reminds me of when some guy tried developing prints in the Charles river in Boston, and actually got a faint image, after a few hours...

3:39 pm - Thursday, August 2, 2012