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The incentive spirometer.

Nature Morte, our most recently added photo gallery, is a departure from the portrait series we’ve been doing to date. It is our series of medical objects and devices re-imagined as objects of beauty. While the French nature morte literally translated to English is “dead nature,” it’s meaning in English is “still life.”

The idea for Nature Morte actually originated during one of the shoots we did with my friend Sharon and her family and friends. Both she and her husband had been given radiation for their cancers, and they had taken home the immobilization molds used to hold their bodies still in the exact positions required by the radiation treatment machines. The molds appeared as sculptural objects of beauty when we first saw them, and we wanted to play with them. (Obviously, I hadn’t had radiation myself.) If you didn’t know what they were used for, they looked as if they could have gone in an art museum. Sharon actually decorated hers with red ribbon.

We decided to do “portraits” of these objects to de-contextualize them so they could be seen in a beautiful, humorous, and more abstract way. These are objects that, in their medical context, trigger anxiety and cause discomfort. Nature Morte is an attempt to shift the identity of these objects by literally changing perspective on them. Rather than documenting their function, we photographed them as objects of art and were interested in their shape and color and the associations their forms evoked. This turned out to be way more fun than one would expect you could have with – for example – nineteen empty syringes. There were fifty-six of them altogether, but by the time I’d realized I wanted to photograph them, I’d already disposed of the majority.

Julie shoots a piece for Nature Morte.

Another “piece” we photographed from my own medical device collection was the incentive spirometer. I used it for prescribed breathing exercises that were to help me increase my lung capacity after being under general anesthesia. I had to use it 10 times every hour. I never did. First, I never remembered (thanks to the painkiller I was on) unless a nurse or physical therapist was in the room. Second, I found it hard not to hyperventilate doing so more than two or three repetitions at a time. But I liked playing with the bendable mouthpiece. The device looked like an abstract space age toy elephant with a flexible trunk, among other things.

Nature Morte is an ongoing series. As we have more participants, we welcome additional objects of beauty they might like to contribute to the gallery. While these photos are a genre of “still life,” we prefer to think of the series as a way of saying “still alive.”

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