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12:31
April 8, 2011 4:25 AM   Subscribe

In 1981, 27-year-old Joseph Paul Jernigan shot and stabbed the man who discovered him stealing a microwave oven. Jernigan was sentenced to death, and a prison chaplain convinced him to donate his body to science. Thirty years on, 1871 slices of his body are animated on a laptop screen and photographed on a long exposure in various dark locations, reconstructing Jernigan as the subject of a haunting new project.
posted by creeky (48 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Everything about this is grim. Grim, grim, grim.
posted by molecicco at 4:28 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


This seems ... bad.
posted by zippy at 4:42 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


not good...not good
posted by odinsdream at 4:50 AM on April 8, 2011


So now he's an eldritch vapor? Odd. Although, I was have expecting this to be some kind of animation or videogame.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:54 AM on April 8, 2011


I can't think of any better way to get NIH on the budget chopping block.
posted by DU at 4:55 AM on April 8, 2011


Because they're shooting a screen, the scans are reduced to a formless white glow, creating a hokey ghost shape that doesn't reflect anything specific about the scans. It's an interesting idea to reconstruct the scans somehow, but this just isn't enough.
posted by rottytooth at 4:56 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amazing. Great post.
posted by photoslob at 4:59 AM on April 8, 2011


Saw the images yesterday without context and figured out pretty fast what they were doing... and remained unmoved and unsatisfied because it was too pushy. Knowing the context turns it into a huge shove and now I'm only moved to dislike it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:59 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't be a food critic.

This is awesome, wondrous work. It's like volumetric rendering remixed with long exposure photography. Excellent post.
posted by effugas at 5:08 AM on April 8, 2011


Ghost: "Hey, I said I wanna donate my body to science, not to come back as animated cold cuts in some bloody Donnie Darko photo exhibition!"
posted by pracowity at 5:13 AM on April 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Wow, this is very cool. Great post!
posted by perilous at 5:16 AM on April 8, 2011


Oh, come on. How could a nebulous balloon person steal a microwave oven?
posted by orme at 5:18 AM on April 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Although I am against capital punishment and am very wary of the ethical problems with using prisoners in medical research, the visible human project is quite interesting. Although you would think after centuries of dissection anatomy would be well understood, that is not true; for example, there are still debates on the shape of the pediatric trachea, which in turn influences the type of endotracheal tube or other airway device we use during a general anesthetic. The very act of dissection distorts tissues and their relation to each other and so being able to use noninvasive imaging and 3D reconstruction really improves our knowledge of how the human body works.

One thing that made the Visible Human Project difficult was that they wanted the cadavers from people in as nearly perfect health as possible. Since healthy people generally don't die (unless from massive trauma which would obviously destroy some of the anatomy they want to preserve) it took years to find suitable specimen. You can see why someone killed by lethal injection would be good for this project. Finding the female donor was more difficult and in both cases there are some pathologies visible. But still very useful information for medical science.

Having said that I am not sure about this 12:31 project. Interesting images but kind of macabre and I am not sure if this is the best use of the data.
posted by TedW at 5:18 AM on April 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is what happens to a man when you put him in a microwave oven.
posted by bwg at 5:23 AM on April 8, 2011


Why did I click on a post that had the word "ghost" in it... Whhhhyyyyyyy
posted by spec80 at 5:24 AM on April 8, 2011


I'd like to have that done to my penis when I die.
posted by zzazazz at 5:24 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


After you die? Or do you mean that's how you want to die, with your penis in the electric food slicer behind the deli counter?
posted by pracowity at 5:35 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with TedW, the use of the visible human project here is questionable. Banal in fact.
posted by rotifer at 5:46 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Haunting, or shite. You decide.
posted by fire&wings at 5:48 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's as good a use as any. Besides, what's the harm?
posted by crunchland at 5:51 AM on April 8, 2011


Given that they explained the process as well as provided the source video, I couldn't help but give this a try. (self link, hope that's OK in this instance) It's fascinating! The results are kinda hit & miss, but with a little practice it became pretty doable. I concentrated more on preserving the anatomical position as opposed to the elongated ghostly contortions in the original project.

Because they're shooting a screen, the scans are reduced to a formless white glow

I dunno, if the movement and exposure are just right, you can actually see some pretty good detail in some areas.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:56 AM on April 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I saw butt.
posted by stormpooper at 6:07 AM on April 8, 2011


Besides, what's the harm?

Since the abuses for prisoners for medical research have come to light over the years, medical ethicists have taken a very skeptical view of their ability to freely consent. A similar example to this case (albeit much more extreme) is the use of the anatomical atlas published by Pernkopf, who obtained his specimens from prisoners in concentration camps; that controversy is discussed here, with mention of the Visible Man Project near the end. A more detailed discussion of the Visible Man Project is in the August 22, 1996 issue of Nature, but that is behind a paywall. It, too raises concerns about the ability of prisoners to freely consent to medical research.

Furthermore, the photographer here is capitalizing on the fact that Jernigan was a condemned prisoner, going so far as to use his time of execution as the name of the project. He could have used the anonymous housewife who was the female body donor, but chose not to.
posted by TedW at 6:33 AM on April 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Shutterbun, I actually thought your results looked better than the original, although his settings were better (I realize that you were just trying it out rather than making a big project about it). And since you are not trying to make money off the work it is not so questionable to me; it is an interesting concept, after all.
posted by TedW at 6:36 AM on April 8, 2011


Thanks, TedW! I find myself inspired to improve my technique, and perhaps experiment with other cross-sectioned subjects, perhaps of a less controversial (but equally compelling) nature.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:46 AM on April 8, 2011


The visible human project is one of my favorite legitimate "mad scientist" type projects. The story is already macabre, more so if you can picture being in the lab that is slicing a frozen human body 1mm at a time. I mean, it's weird enough to microplane mouse brains.

Considering the backstory, the photographs, while clever, were underwhelming and verged on mocking. What was up with the "spooky" backdrops?
posted by zennie at 6:48 AM on April 8, 2011


The very act of dissection distorts tissues and their relation to each other and so being able to use noninvasive imaging and 3D reconstruction really improves our knowledge of how the human body works.

These cadavers have certainly been first subjected to all kinds of noninvasive imaging. The most valuable aspect of this data is to calibrate the noninvasive methods by comparison with the dissected tissues and structures.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:02 AM on April 8, 2011


zennie: " Considering the backstory, the photographs, while clever, were underwhelming and verged on mocking. What was up with the "spooky" backdrops?"

They felt exploitative to me.
posted by zarq at 7:11 AM on April 8, 2011


Besides, what's the harm?

I mean, Burke and Hare were like, eons ago! Nothing bad can happen when you seek out bodies for SCIENCE!
posted by sonika at 7:12 AM on April 8, 2011


These cadavers have certainly been first subjected to all kinds of noninvasive imaging.

Yeah, that's the point I was trying to get at; this project uses a variety of modern technologies that can give us better knowledge of anatomical relationships than traditional dissection can.
posted by TedW at 7:18 AM on April 8, 2011


Nothing bad can happen when you seek out bodies for SCIENCE!

My institution has its own interesting history in that regard.
posted by TedW at 7:23 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


So which of you is gonna pony up 700 bucks for a limited edition print?

Dang.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:28 AM on April 8, 2011


Besides, what's the harm?

I have no problem with the art. I kind of (non-eponsyterically) like it, tho the one I like best looks the least human. (I'd also prefer the feet facing down. Why would he be flying on his back?)

The harm, I think, occurs more with the Visible Human Project than with the art. The harm comes with the legitimization of executions. I think perhaps that's the point of the art project, to bring attention to that wrong?
posted by mrgrimm at 7:32 AM on April 8, 2011


I saw butt.

I saw dead butt.
posted by spamguy at 7:40 AM on April 8, 2011


I think the most pressing question here is how someone could steal a microwave in 1981. May as well try and five-finger discount the ENIAC while you're at it.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:40 AM on April 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


TedW, thank you for all your background information in this thread. Fascinating reading.

I'm still not entirely sure what I think about this project, but I'm uncomfortable with the way the authors acknowledge the ethical issues with Jernigan's consent and then use his body and story anyway. Does the acknowledgement make it better or worse? I don't know.
posted by Georgina at 8:08 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The harm, I think, occurs more with the Visible Human Project than with the art. The harm comes with the legitimization of executions. I think perhaps that's the point of the art project, to bring attention to that wrong?

I have campaigned against execution, and I have trouble with the way this man died. But I still approve of the visible human project because he did donate his body. Most bodies donated to science go to dissection tables for medical training and research. How was this different, really? If the intent of the art project was to comment on concerns about consent or the death penalty, it was done poorly. The image of his body twisted and mangled, overlaid on lonely trees and old buildings. They are from the Scooby Doo school of art philosophy.
posted by zennie at 8:35 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I could choose to donate my body to art, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I don't suppose I'd be able to ever be specific enough to guarantee that it'd only be used for good art :)

As far as I can tell, this is not an NIH project. This is a photographer's project, using materials made available by NIH. The NIH role in this is anything but ghoulish; providing good source material for anatomical studies is essential to medicine.

If any person is capable of freely-given consent, I would suspect that it would be someone expecting to die very soon. Coercion is frequently hard to identify, because it can frequently take emotional or social forms. Of all the people who could have consented to a project like this, Mr. Jernigan was especially capable of giving or denying consent.
posted by nathan v at 11:16 AM on April 8, 2011


ShutterBun, your photos were much more interesting than the banal, ghostly 12:31 shots.
posted by kjh at 11:40 AM on April 8, 2011


Although I am against capital punishment and am very wary of the ethical problems with using prisoners in medical research, the visible human project is quite interesting. Although you would think after centuries of dissection anatomy would be well understood, that is not true; for example, there are still debates on the shape of the pediatric trachea, which in turn influences the type of endotracheal tube or other airway device we use during a general anesthetic. The very act of dissection distorts tissues and their relation to each other and so being able to use noninvasive imaging and 3D reconstruction really improves our knowledge of how the human body works


How can that be?? Can't anyone just round up some kids and put them in an MRI tube?
posted by ocschwar at 11:40 AM on April 8, 2011


MRI doesn't give the kind of detail that these anatomical sections do.

I'm not sure what these photos were supposed to accomplish, I was just confused by them until I read the way they constructed them. Then I thought, "Where's the after-image of the laptop?"
posted by demiurge at 12:02 PM on April 8, 2011


Can't anyone just round up some kids and put them in an MRI tube?

Actually that is one of the studies that has been done recently; however for very young children where the differences are most significant that requires anesthetizing them so they will lay still long enough to get detailed 3D reconstructions, so it is not a trivial procedure and is generally done while they are getting an MRI for other reasons. Also, they have to be anesthetized without endotracheal intubation which would distort the very anatomy we are looking at. By comparison the original studies were done on cadavers with plaster casts of the trachea. The MRI study you suggested is here; a more recent study using video bronchoscopy is here.
posted by TedW at 12:06 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have actually used his images for an educational project. I did not know his history.
posted by etherist at 12:13 PM on April 8, 2011


Interesting concept, although I don't find the images very moving.
posted by owtytrof at 12:56 PM on April 8, 2011


Also, I agree that ShutterBun's are better, in my opinion, in that they more closely maintain the human body shape instead of pushing it towards an amorphous blob. Well done!
posted by owtytrof at 12:59 PM on April 8, 2011


Parma ham, anyone?
posted by oneironaut at 2:36 PM on April 8, 2011


Reminds me of Stephen Gammell's haunting illustrations for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (previously), especially this one.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:47 PM on April 8, 2011


Sometimes art is just...stupid.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:52 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


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