Tag Archives: death

Grim Reaper series No 4; Time

12 Nov

I have been away exploring North India for a while and returned full of images that stuff my much belaboured brain. Much time is taken up at present in construction of the Punch and Judy project which is nearing completion of the construction but  requires a lot of learning lines and puppetry techniques. Sooner or later I shall have to post a video, meanwhile, here is my latest image from the Death series.

This image explores the time of transition, the movement from life into death; a process feared by many. Awareness of the fact that our time on earth will be short is forced upon the mind when becoming aware of impending death. In this situation it is essential to plan, to think ahead, in order to fashion the best life possible out of time remaining.
The index X-ray in this picture was from a lady with a large collection of fluid in her right pleural space (the space around the lung inside the thorax) caused by advanced mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is usually due to exposure with asbestos dust. This lady did not respond to treatment and the underlying lung collapsed. There was also invasion into the lung, ribs, the right chest wall, and breast. The prognosis for a new diagnosis of mesothelioma is typically about 18 months though cases can live longer, but advanced cases such as this have a much shorter life expectancy.
Component parts of the image include a human skull decorated in a primitive society which matches the theme of death in this series. The strong patterns including the spiral on the right arise from a brass plaque in an Indian temple to the worship of Kali the originator and devourer of all things. In the end it is time (Sanskrit; Kala काल) that both originates and devours all things.

Chest 111 Time

Chest 111; Time


Grim Reaper series 2; The empty mind

30 Sep
Reaper 2 C

Grim Reaper Series 2; The empty mind

One thing is for certain, there is escape neither from death nor taxes. We are all equal with regards to those things. Unlike taxation, nobody is an expert on death. Doctors and philosophers, holy men and profane have studied the process in detail, but not one of them has the edge on any of us; we are all equal when considering death. And all our thinking on death begins and ends from a position of ignorance.

We know one thing; it occurs to all living things, after that we can only guess; is it real, or is it not? If it is real then the end of life as we know it is simply a termination, a blank wall beyond which we cannot pass. If it is not, then it is a door to a life other than that we now know. We sometimes comment after a death that a person no longer suffers, as though something of the person remains to suffer.

The best we can do is to use allegorical language; death is a wall, a door, according to our belief, and speculate whether there may, or may not be a “next life”.

Pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide. Every year, it kills an estimated 1.1 million children, accounting for 18% of all deaths of children under five years old worldwide. Pneumonia affects children and families everywhere and is no respecter of class or creed.

The X-ray in this picture comes from a child with a severe chlamydia infection. This is an organism that is ubiquitous. It must enter a cell in order to reproduce using the cells resources, which it then destroys. It was difficult to detect and was initially thought to be due to a virus. It causes pneumonia in people irrespective of their immune status. The condition is usually mild but can, however, be severe and cause the death of the infected person.

I have backed the X-ray with stone and sky, mainly for their colour and pattern combinations, but also to reflect two of the five elements Hindus look towards; earth, air, fire, water, and sky, one more than usually quoted in the West.

The central theme of this image is disintegration of the body after death.

Grim Reaper 1; Gold in the fire

29 Sep
Reaper 1 C

Grim Reaper 1; Gold in the fire

I have been visiting amultiple temples, churches and holy sites during the last six weeks. The common theme running through all is the focus on death. Some of these sites concentrate on the life lead before death. The Karma Sutra temples of Kujaraho seeming to draw as much from life before death, the Buddhist temples striving towards a better life and towards annihilation in death, the Hindu concentration on the place of death, how ashes are disposed of. Cathedrals celebrating death in its many forms, the wealthy prominently displayed. The ossuary with thousands upon thousands of human bones displayed for inspection of the curious.


Ossuary at Kutha Hora, Czech Republic

During my career I have been privileged to usher out of this life many individuals, and at the same time have been present at the birth of others. I do not however intend to embark on a philosophical contemplation of death, except that it comes to us all and it probably isn’t a bad idea to be prepared for it.

I have decided to create a series of pictures which I shall call the Grim Reaper Series in which I shall try and explore the subject and hopefully find a little humour in it. I worked in a chest hospital for a year or two. One evening an elderly emphysematous gentleman had gone into respiratory failure from which there was no chance of rescue. He lay in a seeming coma for about 24 hours, his breathing gradually getting shallower and shallower until it was almost impossible to know if he were alive or not. A young nurse monitoring his signs bent down with her cheek close to his face trying to detect a breath. He opened his eyes and said “Boo!” She came rushing into the staff room all of a fluster – “That Mr Jones!!!” And he passed away a few hours later.

This picture is made up of several layers including the texture of ragged gold leaf applied to a brick wall, candles in a church representing mankind as a flickering flame that is soon extinguished. In the background of my picture several skulls taken from one of the ossuaries can be seen. I intend to use these along with the chest X-ray in this series as a motif.

The chest X-ray was taken from a 17 year old man with a lymphoma of the lung that finally caused his death. This condition is now treatable. The original image came from hospital museum files was dated before Hodgkins disease could be treated with any consistent success.

Slipping away

13 Feb

then on the shore of this wide world i stand alone and think, till love and fame to nothingness do sink” John Keats.

In this image I try to explore the relationship between the present and the mortal future. It contains the X-ray image of a child with a potentially lethal condition but which can be survived given the right treatment. In a former life in Africa I was surrounded by children who died for lack of resources. Witness to so many that simply slipped away. I was struck by the tacit acceptance of death by people, the realisation that perhaps the children were better off than living in the terrible conditions they encountered. It was a nihilism that I had difficulty coming to terms with then, and even now. Keats’ lines above suggest that death turns all our effort and striving to nothing – they are not worth the stress. Our unlimited values are rendered meaningless by a limited life. In this context death is both the cause and solution of our problems, the fear and the remedy.


Chest 47: Slipping away


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