Yes, 3-D light painting — in which a flat glowing image is traced through the air to form a quasi-3D version captured in long-exposure photographs — is an amazingly creative hack. But Croix Gagnon and Frank Schott have taken the technique to a truly mindblowing — and emotionally affecting — level with Project 12:31. Their own description can’t be topped: “In 1993, a convicted murderer was executed. His body was given to science, segmented, and photographed for medical research. In 2011, we used photography to put it back together.”
Firstly, what do they mean by “segmented”? Well, exactly that: Joseph Paul Jernigan’s cadaver was cut into 1,871 slices, each a millimeter thick, in a “stack” from the top of his scalp to the soles of his feet. Here’s a video that “zooms” through the body — which formed the source material for Gagnon and Schott’s macabre photography project.
The photographers played this video on a laptop computer while waving it around in dark environments; a long-exposure camera traced the path of the glowing flat image, turning it into something resembling a holographic ghost. Here’s a visual aid that Gagnon and Schott created to better explain the process:
The result is a stylized visual effect with the factual and emotional weight of journalism. That’s Jernigan’s real body floating through the trees like smoke, or hovering above a still lake like a spectral corpse on a slab. Is it a chilling commentary on the social aftershocks of capital punishment, a (literally) haunted depiction of how brutal crimes spiritually stain their environments, or something else completely? Like all great art, “Project 12:31” doesn’t collapse into single pat interpretations. Whatever your reaction, the primal impact of Gagnon and Schott’s process speaks for itself — and illuminates things we often prefer to leave safely enshrouded in darkness.