Chest 118; Asbestosis

20 Mar
Chest 118 asbestosis C

Chest 118; Asbestosis

The original chest X-ray comes from a man with calcification of his pleura (the membrane that lines the inside of the chest and surrounds the lungs) due to long term exposure to asbestos dust in the mines of Western Australia.
All forms of asbestos cause lung disease but the type that is most harmful is Crocidolite – Blue asbestos. The disease is usually due to inhaling fine asbestos fibres over a long period of time. People exposed in their workplace are most at risk but occasional incidental exposure can lead to malignant change.
When asbestos fibres are inhaled the tiny sharp needle-like crystals penetrate deeply into the lungs causing slow, chronic inflammatory reaction leading to fibrosis of the lungs. This makes the tissues stiff and the total volume shrinks. The affected person gets slow onset of shortness of breath and eventually respiratory failure. The pleura may calcify and is at risk of developing malignant tumours known as mesothelioma.
As a child living on a copper-mine in Zambia I liked collecting geological specimens and treasured a large piece of Crocidolite that I was given. I would demonstrate the fibrous nature of the rock by pulling strands off to show my friends and kept it on a shelf with my other rocks in my bedroom. Even though concerns about the dangers of asbestos had been known since the early 1930s, they weren’t generally recognised even in a mining community like ours. Asbestos wasn’t removed from production in Australia until the 1980s.
In this picture I have used a spray-painted graffiti style and mixed blue colours with scarlet to symbolise blue asbestos and the malignant scarlet beast – mesothelioma: So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns (Revelation 17:3)

Chest 117; Silicosis

7 Mar
Chest 117 MPF 2C

Chest 117; Silicosis

After a good friend married to a mining engineer asked me to consider make a picture relating to mining diseases, I chose an X-ray of a person with severe emphysema and Progressive Massive Fibrosis of the lung due to silicosis. The name silica comes from the Latin word silex – a flint.

My upbringing from the late 1940s through to the 1970s was in a small copper-mining town, part of a series of mines known as the Copperbelt in Zambia. Almost the entire population was dependent one way or another on mining for a living, as was my father who worked underground. Underground workers spent their shifts breathing silica dust released during blasting. The Miners Phthisis Board figured prominently in our lives and had the power to dictate whether a man was allowed to work.

Miner’s phthisis (or Potter’s Rot) is a debilitating occupational disease due to deposition of fine grains of crystalline silica dust in the lung, and the body’s immunological reaction to it. It causes fibrous scarring of the lung that restricts the ability of the tissue to absorb oxygen in exchange for carbon dioxide. It leads to emphysema with chronic shortness of breath, cough, and cyanosis (blueness of the skin). Sometimes the immune response is overwhelming and causes large lumps of fibrous tissue known as Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF) to form. It predisposes to infections, especially TB, and the tissue can break down causing lung cavities.

A major concern in mining and other industries, silicosis has caused such devastation that it is an important economic issue which governments cannot ignore, therefore focus was very much on the financial interests of mining. Other risks of silica were not appreciated till relatively recently. Since the 1990s there’s been re-evaluation of its role in triggering auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and sarcoidosis.

The ubiquity of silicosis throughout the world has given rise to an entire culture, particularly within coal-mining communities. Many ballads, poems, and works of art relate to this disease. The paradox is that the men must work to live, whilst knowing they work to die.

The opening stanza of Gabriel Gadfly’s Poem (   Briar Patch gives a taste of this;

Press your ear close.

Sometimes you can hear the breath
rattling in my chest like a bone shrugged
its moorings and ought to be tied back down

The cough

The Cough; Noel Counihan 1947

A 1940s lino-print The Cough by Noel Counihan 1947 is particularly moving and reminds me of heart-wrenching encounters with men, struggling for breath, dying of emphysema due to dust inhalation, smoking, and recurrent infections, whilst I was working in a chest hospital in a coal mining area of England.

My picture, based around a severe case of PMF with collapse, fibrosis, and cavitation in the upper zones of the lung, includes photos of a mining rock-face and a shaft headgear such as those that were central to our life in Zambia, and which will be familiar to many mining communities. On the right side of the image a faintly perceived ghost-like figure can be seen.

Bamboo in the wind; an experiment

4 Feb
Bamboo in wind - Copy

Bamboo in the wind – an experiment in animation

This is an experiment!                   TO SEE THE VIDEO CLICK ON THE TITLE ABOVE.

in September I’ve been invited to exhibit an installation relating to my art-work. this is to be held in a gallery that used to be a bank. The old vault, a space 2×2 metres, has been allocated to this display. I shall project the animation onto the back wall in a darkened area.

In the video I hope to illustrate development of an image beginning with the introduction of an X-ray and moving through the layering of different elements – the collage. For me this has meant learning two different animation programs – Adobe Flash, and Adobe After Effects.

The video shown here starts with a person with emphysema due to years of smoking who developed lung cancer. Emphysema causes progressive destruction of lung tissue with loss of respiratory reserve and progressive inability to breathe. Even in the absence of cancer as a complicating factor emphysema is a prolonged, potentially fatal condition.The collage blends three natural elements related to the air we breathe, the sea, green leaves (bamboo and a gum-tree) and bubbles floating on fast moving water. Each represents part of the patho-physiology of this disease.

Through the bitter-sweet quality of these images I’d like to give an impression of the many impacts, both positive and negative that medicine has had on me over the years and how art has become my catharsis.

I am not sure what the final video that is to be presented in September will look like, but it will contain elements from this one which has been an exciting journey in itself. There is yet a long way to go.

Chest 116; Lobectomy

16 Jan
Chest 116 C Lobectomy

Chest 116; Lobectomy

I have begun thinking about the exhibition in September which at the moment is conceived as an installation; the allocated space a rather small, very intimate area. At the moment I’m considering projecting the development of one of my works as an animation, but am having difficulty working out how to incorporate the “story” without text or sound.

This image is one in which I’ve been experimenting, linking the various components – a whirl of sea foam, a large fern leaf, setting sun disappearing behind the trees, a spray of grass seeds. In my mind they illustrate the anatomy of the lung – branching bronchi ending in arrays of small grape-like bubbles. In the normal lung the ascini (Greek for a bunch of grapes) are roughly equal in size, but in the lung disease known as emphysema the ascini are very variable in size like bubbles floating on water. In the same way that small bubbles often combine to make big ones, so the ascini of the lung when damaged by pollution, cigarette smoke, and other factors, combine to make large cavities, useless for air exchange known as bullae (Bulla, meaning a bubble).


Diagram of the ascini of the lung. Dr Frank Gaillard,

This chest X-ray from the radiology museum is of a man who survived cancer of the lung. It was taken after removal of his entire left upper lobe (lobectomy). The surgical clips and staples are clearly visible. He has a background of emphysema, the lungs are over-inflated and full of bullae, and the remaining lower lobe has over expanded to fill the space.

The images combine to give tortured movement with bubbles swirling around the central figure against a background of herringbone textures breaking up into irregular zones. For some reason it puts me in mind of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures of slaves swimming inside the marble trying to break free of it.


Michaelangelo, unfinished sculpture (Image from

Chest 115; Proteus

14 Jan
Chest 115; haemangioma C

Chest 115; Proteus

A haemangioma is a benign congenital tumour of blood vessels that can occur in any tissues of the body. Lung haematomas are quite rare and are found incidentally when an X-ray is taken for other reasons. The main problem is mistaken diagnosis as cancer of the lung. If large these blood vessel abnormalities can cause shunting of blood from the arterial to the venous system, and if the abnormal blood flow is large enough can cause the heart to fail.
If, as in this person, they occur in association with other tissue abnormalities particularly bone, fat, or lymphatics, the affected part can grow abnormally and distort the area concerned.
When other parts of the body are affected it is known as Proteus syndrome (Sometimes “Elephant Man Syndrome”), named after the Greek God Proteus who could morph his body into different shapes. This is an incurable condition and medical treatment is aimed at helping the symptoms.
This person had a haemangioma in the right lung associated with several others particularly in the right arm that distorted the arm growth into a highly visible deformity. This caused major psychological problems with social isolation, low self-esteem.
The picture combines the chest X-ray with a series of out-of-focus textures. Selected areas of the textural components were processed and edge-enhanced to produce the ribbon like lines.

I liked this cartoon from New Scientist (13 Dec 2014) with the little piece of text that went with it.

New Scientist

Chest 114; Sky blue

6 Jan
Chest 114 C

Chest 114; Sky Blue

My work tends to be full of detail with riotous colour. Colour almost controls me. To change this is a challenge. Inspired by other works of art recently viewed I’ve tried to simplify my image to give a more delicate, almost naive touch. It all began with about ten different pictures eliminated, one by one, down to just two base images. The index Chest X-ray is a 16 year old girl with paraplegia due to a road traffic accident (I don’t know why this X-ray was in the museum, because I can’t detect an abnormality. There was no explanation with it). It was overlaid with a single picture of clear blue sky. I decided to limit colours to just brown and blue representing sky and earth. The Edge Detect tool produced a sort of sepia coloured drawing of the X-ray. The sky was segmented into three layers using the Wand, and blended using the Difference tool. I also used Curves to tweak the density of colour a little.

And that was it, all bar the explanation.

One evening about 1978 as stand-in doctor for a Speedway event in Oxford, UK an accident occurred. A motorbike bucked on the uneven track surface and the young rider was catapulted into the periphery fence. We carried him from the track to the first aid room and assessed him whilst awaiting an ambulance. He had been rendered instantly paraplegic. Later at the hospital (before CT scans were generally available) we examined his spine with X-rays. He’d split a vertebra in two (a Chance fracture) cutting right through the spinal cord. He was aged 21. At the time I did not follow him further and have no idea how he went.

Spinal cord injury is a devastating condition causing much cost, both personal, and to society in general. No direct treatment exists. These days rehabilitation is incredibly good. Had that event occurred now, although his life would change significantly he could conceivably go on to lead a fruitful and fulfilling life. Stem-cell therapy looks promising with several potential strategies for treatment and repair of damaged tissue for people with spinal cord injuries – we dream of a full cure, perhaps the sky is the limit!

Chest 113; Where the smoke goes

27 Dec
Chest 113 Where smoke goes C

Chest 113; Where the Smoke goes

I am preparing for an art installation in September 2015 and thoughts are turning about how to do this. One of my ideas, likely to be heavily modified as I realise the problems involved, is to project an animation of the development of one of my digital pictures from the source images into a piece of art.

To this end I have been experimenting with recording every phase of a picture as it is made and have come up with 30 images, starting with the source X-ray and passing through various iterations until I am satisfied with the outcome.

I’m not sure that I will use this image, however it is a start.

The X-ray was from a man, a smoker with severe emphysema and a lot of nasty changes in the lung that looks like the development of a lung cancer. My thought process revolved around air, wind, fresh air and polluted air, trees and leaves, cancerous invasion with fire and fury, and I wanted to direct the message of this image towards those ideas.

As reference images I included trees and grass from our paddock, an autumn red leaf close-up, and a strange triffid-looking plant encountered on a windy hillside in Hawaii on a previous holiday.

Colours (2)

Green colour

Flowers (3)

Triffid plant in Hawaii

Red Leaf (1)

Autumn leaf closeup

Trees (8)

Paddock, eucalyptus trees

Weeds (2)

Long grass and weeds

Here are the base pictures, with a few of the intermediate images. I used mainly the blending modes “Difference” and “Pin Light”. I left both the X-ray and triffid as “Normal” and using the “Magic Wand” tool subtracted large amounts of unwanted information, using the interesting shapes that were left to mask between different layers. Both of these layers were enhanced in “Effects” using a “Drop shadow” on one and “Bevel & Emboss” on the other. Insertion of a “Normal” layer as a mask means that the blending effects below are nullified producing a contrast with those that are not masked.  I warped the triffid in the “Transform” mode under “Edit” as part of the composition so that the point where the cancer is developing was focussed in the lower right – following the rule of thirds.  I finally colour-enhanced using the “Curves” adjustment.

The resulting image is dramatic and quite violent. It gives the impression of collapsing in flames.


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