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An Executed Convict Returns to Life, in Mind Blowing 3-D Light Paintings

The jaw-dropping “Project 12:31” visually reconstructs the body of an executed convict who donated his body to science.

An Executed Convict Returns to Life, in Mind Blowing 3-D Light Paintings

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.”

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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:

schott

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.

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About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets

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