Like many photographers, Nick Veasey experiments with exposure times, distances, and film—except he does so behind a 1,250 kg lead and steel door that blocks the massive doses of radiation coming from his X-ray machine. Nick is often cited as the world’s leading X-ray artist; he creates work that is sometimes sublime, sometimes humorous, and always an intricate technical exploration into the inner workings of things.
Getting beyond the surfaces we see every day, X-rays show how things really are. There is beauty there, as well as understanding. Whether it’s a manmade object like a gun or a motorcycle, or the secret structures within a flower or starfish, Nick shows us a world normally hidden from view.
With X-ray photography, the object you photograph can’t be larger than the piece of film you use. To get around this limitation with larger objects (and I mean large: a car, motorcycles, an airplane, and more), Nick disassembles them into 11-inch by 17-inch sections and X-rays each section individually. He then scans the film and reassembles the pieces like a multilayered jigsaw puzzle. This laborious process allows Nick to manipulate the image for clarity, emphasizing or de-emphasizing parts to give the viewer a greater sense of the whole object in three-dimensional space.
He also X-rays live objects—or, at least, objects that were alive at one point. Nick explains, “The radiation doses I use are not really compatible with living very long.” His studio is filled with all sorts of oddities: dead snakes, tools, designer handbags, antique cameras, sex toys—anything that might convey meaning once you see below its surface. “When you look at my work in detail, you start to discover things within everyday objects that you didn’t realize were there.”
Nick’s gun X-rays are some of his best-known and most striking images. “These guns are beautiful; it’s just what they do is scary. They’re machines designed for bringing life to an end. My X-rays of guns are really technical explorations of how a gun works. You pull the trigger, a bullet comes out the end, and where that bullet ends up can be fatal.”
Nick says that thinking of things to X-ray isn’t a problem; the trick is to find the good ideas, the ones that just won’t go away: “If they keep nagging away and nagging away and nagging away, eventually I get myself together and do something about it, and follow that idea through."
“Me and my small team, we live in a strange world, an X-ray world, which is like a classic fusion of science and art,” Nick says. “And I’m like the original X-ray nerd—I live and breathe it. But many creative people are obsessive about what they do, and I don’t see that as a problem. To succeed, you have to be like that.”