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New camera technology reveals body's hidden secrets

A dramatic way of seeing magnified parts of the human body is now possible through cutting edge filming technology. The BREATH project uses extreme slow motion and close up filming techniques to explore the ageing human body as a new landscape.

As part of the launch of the Eden Project’s Invisible You exhibition on Saturday 23 May, visitors will get the chance to see materials from the project and understand some of the filming techniques, exploring with cameras how their pupil dilates or how the hairs on their arm stand up.

Academics from the University of Exeter’s Drama department and Medical School are contributing to the development of the BREATH project that explores the contours and intricacies of the outer shell of the human body from birth to death.

The launch activities at the Eden Project form part of a long term project with creative partner’s perfectmotion and film maker Phil Clemo and academics in psychology, digital arts, performance, and computers, to create a film and installation. The process is to enable artists to help the body be seen in a whole new way, offering a new way to perceive the world.

Dr Sarah Goldingay is the lead academic on the multi-disciplinary project and specialises in performance a process which is implicit to seeing and understanding how the body works. 

She said:“We are experimenting how best to use and show the finer detail of the surface of our skin to the movement of our eyelashes/lids when we blink. It’s rather like mapping the human body and seeing it as landscape to explore and move across as the camera is able to travel across the contours of the body. By putting your hand under the macro lens of the camera you can and see all shapes and ridges, you can literally see your hair stand on end as it happens, incredible!”

The BREATH project is about challenging assumptions of how the body is seen and can be explored. Paul Dieppe, Professor of Health and Wellbeing from the University of Exeter’s Medical School input to the project focuses on re-imagining how people see themselves when their bodies are physically broken or suffering from illness.

Professor Dieppe said:“As a physician and researcher into health and wellbeing, I am interested in understanding how we can talk about the holistic and integrated nature of health and healing. Breath’s cutting edge imaging and innovative interactivity will help the medical community better understand the range of stimuli and experiences that shape our sense of wellbeing. The project also gives people a chance to think about their bodies in a whole new way.”

Phil Clemo, a former editor of the BBC current affairs programme Panorama and creative partner on the project developed BREATH over 6 years. The work draws inspiration from his previous film, which explored environments in abstract and ambiguous ways as a journey through Icelandic landscapes. As technology has advanced he turned this interest into exploring the landscape of the body, using macro lenses and high speed cameras that enable him to film between the pulses of the human heartbeat.

He said:"I am continually looking for new ways to perceive the world around us. Whether filming chemical reactions in petri-dishes, tracking human-body landscapes, exploding gases and capturing in extreme slow motion or shooting abstract landscapes from a gyro-stabilised rig on a helicopter, I am searching for something beyond how we ordinarily experience our world. I want us to question how we perceive, challenge what we think we know."

Members of the public will be able to have hands on experience of project at the launch event on Saturday 23 May in the main tent at the Eden Project. Images of parts of their own bodies will be magnified and shown on huge screens, turning the barely visible aspects of their bodies into a moving landscape. 

BREATH is funded by the Arts Council of England and Media: a programme for the European Union. Academic contributions to the project also include research from Coventry and Loughborough University and the Universities of Brighton and Cambridge. The Invisible You launch exhibition is funded by the Wellcome Trust and has received additional support through the University of Exeter/Eden Project Collaboration Fund.


Date: 20 May 2015

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