A glass jar filled with liquid that would look relatively normal were it not holding a preserved human hand, sits on a desk. In another photo, a preserved head of a young woman can be seen looking almost peaceful while held in a square jar.
These photographs and others like them are on display in “The Dead” exhibit by Jack Burman in the Nicholas & Lee Begovich Gallery at Cal State Fullerton. Throughout the exhibit, visitors can witness the haunting reality of what remains after death.
Despite the topic of mortality being quite eerie, the photographs provide visitors with a view into the mind of Burman.
“All art that I respond to crosses a line. It deeply transgresses and goes to where I’ve never been,” Burman said in an email. “I see no ‘objects’ in my work ever, only transgressive being- truth.”
After studying English literature at the University of Toronto, Burman said he earned his Ph.D. in American literature at York University before his passion for photography flourished.
Once Burman picked up a Nikon F2A, the time he previously spent writing prose transferred into photography.
Burman traveled to Sicily in the ‘80s to work in the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo, where 8,000 mummified bodies and skeletons that date as far back as the 1600s lie.
It was there that he took his first post-mortem photograph.
“It was a sense of entering another realm of measureless strangeness, darkness, beauty. You forgot time,” Burman said.
Since then, he has traveled to several other countries documenting his fascination of preserved bodies.
“In a real sense, I do this work to be able to breathe. For me, the work is permanence,” Burman said. “It strips away my mortality, or (it) feels that way.”
To capture the details of the specimen, jars and cadavers, Burman works extremely closely to the subject using an APO-macro lens on the 4-by-5 setting. He then switches to the 8-by-10 mild wide-angle lens to gather more images that may show further specific details.
Along the walls of the exhibit hang pictures showcasing various preserved body parts, including a mummified Egyptian head dating back to 700 B.C. and a male skull with protruding veins and arteries.
Religious studies graduate student Kat Mays said that she may get nightmares from viewing some of the photos but was nonetheless intrigued by it all.
One of the most interesting photographs on display was of a face without a skull hung by two strings. All photographs show each body part or person in different elements, reflecting “the hardness and motions of time laid on and under the skin,” Burman said.
“This artist really has a unique style, and he’s photographed something very different,” said CSUF student Ryan Cheng. Additionally, Cheng said that Burman’s rare style can be attributed to the daring subject of his photographs.
The exhibit will be open until Dec. 7, and fans of Burman can expect the third volume of his book “The Dead” to be released later this year.