During a collaboration with neurologist, John Kew and neuropsychologist, Professor Peter Halligan to research and visualise phantom limbs, I made a series of portraits of people with amputations. A ‘straight’ portrait of each of the eight people photographed ‘normalises’ the more bizarre images of phantoms. Exhibited beside each set of photos is a text, derived from an interview, in which each person describes the history of their phantom limb experience. The work asks 'what is a 'normal' body?', and explores the relationship between somatic experience and external appearance.
Since their creation in 1997, images from the After Image series have been exhibited and published in a wide range of art and science contexts both nationally and internationally.
This project was one of the first SciArt Collaborations sponsored by The Wellcome Trust.
Date of amputation: October 1995
Time post amputation: 21 months
Age 71: Male. Road accident in which arm was crushed
No previous damage to arm
As our car bowled over in collision with another car, my arm went out of the window and was crushed. X-rays later revealed that the arm was severely damaged, but the hand was left in tact. The phantom is continuous; it takes the form of my hand. It is sometimes painful and sometimes just sensation. I feel I can control the movements of the hand until I suddenly realise that it isn't there. The hand is slightly clenched fist, and that doesn't really change; it can only go about three quarters unclenched. The pain is mostly in the third finger; that sometimes hurts and is painful as though I had broken it. The hand is the same size as my real hand, but much heavier. It itches a lot of the time and I want to scratch it. I can kid myself that I can make the phantom limb move. Its really just a sort of opening & closing: the hand moves from the wrist downwards, but rotation of the wrist isn't available. I have only got finger and hand joint movements. When I haven't moved it for a while it becomes stiff. I can't imagine being without the phantom because it is there all the time and it is very much like eating or breathing: I can put up with it quite adequately and would probably miss it if it went away. I might wish it wasn't so irritating, but I think I would rather keep it as it is than risk losing it.