What Lies Beneath

10th October 2018

Nick Veasey X-rayed his trainers out of curiosity and was so impressed by the results, he wondered what else he could get under the skin of. Since then, his ethereal images of objects ranging from flowers to aircraft have propelled him onto art’s A-list.

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Nick Veasey started his professional life as an advertising photographer, presenting the shiny surface of things. Yet his abiding passion over the last two decades has been for the very opposite – taking X-ray images that reveal what lies beneath. “All of my work is a statement against superficiality,” he says. “I feel we are too obsessed by material issues: what we wear, what we drive, where we live. My work is a metaphor for looking on the inside – for it is what we feel on the inside, rather than what we project superficially, that really matters.”

Veasey’s X-ray art started almost by accident. He was X-raying a soda can for an advertising job, and then thought he’d take a shot of the shoes he was wearing that day. The result, an ordinary pair of sneakers, complete with dirt and grit embedded in the sole, was transformed into something ethereal and beautiful – and Veasey was hooked. His body of work is impressive, ranging from complex large-scale images of aeroplanes, cars and motorbikes to much simpler X-rays of single blooms or leaves. He finds that both have their charm – and their challenges.

One of his most impressive achievements was photographing an entire Boeing 777, which he describes as being akin to doing “a jigsaw puzzle with thousands of pieces. The most amazing fact to me is that I somehow persuaded Boeing to send me a plane in parts from the West Coast of the US to my studio in Kent. How it works is that the X-rays are exposed onto film at 100 per cent life size. The largest film available is 35 x 43cm so if the object is bigger than that, we use more films, all overlapped. Each film is then processed and the drum scanned. Once we have the digital file we start the process of joining up the pieces of the jigsaw. The plane took over a year to complete and consists of over 1,000 separate X-rays. It’s the world’s largest X-ray, by some margin.” Although it’s hugely satisfying to master such technical complexities, Veasey admits that sometimes the smaller natural objects are more rewarding: “The process is faster, and the beauty and intricate details of nature never cease to amaze me.”

“The process is faster, and the beauty and intricate details of nature never cease to amaze me.”

The classic 1960s Arriflex 16BL movie camera.

The classic 1960s Arriflex 16BL movie camera.

All of this happens in Veasey’s studio outside Maidstone in the fields of Kent – a kind of shed-cum-bunker, with specially fortified walls and a door that can withstand radiation. This summer he is due to move to a larger studio nearby with an adjacent gallery. He takes particular pleasure in knowing that the images he produces in this unlikeliest of spots are hanging on the walls of galleries and museums all over the world. Modest about his work, Veasey is happy to tread the line between art and commercial projects, citing both Dalí and Warhol as highly respected artists who managed to do both throughout their distinguished careers.

“to capture an innovative internal exploration of the collectors’ pride and joy”

Veasey is always up for a new challenge. A recent collaboration with the V&A saw him invent and build the world’s first mobile X-ray studio, as part of a project to X-ray key pieces from the museum’s fashion collection. He has just started work on a project called The Kit , producing images of the equipment people wear in extreme jobs or environments. He’s also working with X-ray video for the first time and looking at X-raying more iconic classic cars – “to capture an innovative internal exploration of the collectors’ pride and joy”.

One dream, however, keeps him up at night: “I would love to X-ray a submarine. Can you imagine seeing inside that! All the chambers, the mechanical details – that would be special.” Veasey speaks about his work with a poetic, almost philosophical passion. There is something in the transformation that occurs in X-ray that thrills him. Every detail, every nuance, every speck of dirt, is revealed yet somehow elevated. “Radiation is used to detect disease,” he has said, “and I’m using it to reveal beauty.”

A chrysanthemum bloom

A chrysanthemum bloom

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