X-Ray Visions

This story appears in the October 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine.

We're told to look beyond the superficial, to seek inner beauty. Nice ideas, but what do they really mean? And what would an inside-out world look like? By making radiographic images of everyday objects, I’ve found some surprising answers.

Sixteen years ago I was doing commercial photography. One day I x-rayed a soda can, and I had a eureka moment. Suddenly everything became clear, including my purpose as an artist. Since then I’ve taken over 7,500 x-ray images and learned a lot about electromagnetic energy. For instance, radiation and moisture don’t mix. So, to shoot a shell cleanly (above), I first bake it dry in an oven.

My technique is slow. A hospital x-ray exposure takes seconds, mine take minutes; all told, one photo can mean days of work. There are radiation hazards too. But the results, like the nautilus in the photo gallery that accompanies this piece, are worth it. X-ray photos suit me because of their transparency—because they honestly do reveal an inner world of wonder.