Amongst other things, Brendan Fitzpatrick is an adventurer, photographer, and X-ray artist. The Australian-born, Irish raised creative has worked on everything from commercial and portrait photography, to photographic explorations of anonymous migrant workers in Singapore, where he lived for several years. With Art Pharmacy, Brendan shares another facet of his work - an X-ray project he’s labelled Invisible Light. It’s rollicking good fun.
How would you describe your work to a blind person?
Minimal. Dark. Satirical. I don’t have a fixed style, but my work will usually share one or more of those three characteristics.
There are only a handful of people who use radiography in their art making. How did you get into it?
I kind of fell into it by chance. It started as a research project for a commercial job – I found the X-ray really gave the best effect, and I kept on experimenting with it afterwards.
What made you stick with X-rays and create the Invisible Light project?
It just looks so awesome! That is really the driving thing. I mean there were definitely mistakes along the way - some subjects would work and others wouldn’t. As the project goes on, I think that more personal expression will come out of it.
What’s your idea of a visual feast?
I respond to work that’s simple yet detailed, and doesn’t need a page of A4 text to explain it. I want it to communicate quickly.
With the X-rays, I want to bring out layers of usually unseen interior detail in the work. I don’t want perfect symmetry, but there’s a point at which it feels right to me. With a sense of precision, the image should just click for the viewer.
When do you know that you’ve found a good X-ray subject?
If I see a good, clear structure, I’ll give it a go. There have been some flowers and plants for example that didn’t work out because they’re too undefined, and just ended up as mush.
Also, the subject matter has to be still, and has to fit within a certain area. If I want to X-ray a subject that’s larger than the X-ray sensor, I’ve got to shoot in sections and then assemble the pieces into a composite.
It sounds like the medium dictates the subject, in a sense.
Well, it’s about finding subjects that work- like the toy robots and the flowers- and building from there. I find certain niches, and it’s almost like different genres of music. For example, drum and bass is a sound that was created at a certain point and became a genre in itself because those elements and format just fit together so precisely.
How long does it take to make one X-ray image?
They’re made in batches, so the time it takes varies depending on how complex the silhouette of the object is.
First, I’ll go down to places like the Chinatown markets and I’ll look for stuff . The robots and the toy guns have very clear outlines, so masking and retouching in Photoshop is relatively straightforward.
Much more time is needed for objects with a complex silhouette - such as flowers, and animals. In it’s raw form, the X-ray image is in greyscale and the subject melds into a grainy grey background. Each subject has to be digitally separated from the X-ray background. I isolate sections and enhance them individually. There’s a lot of subtle enhancement involved.
Other subjects have to be composited together. The stem and the head and leaves of the Lily for example are from separate exposures which I’ve had to ‘Frankenstein’ together. That process alone can go on for a couple of days.
Collage seems to be an important part of your creative process.
I think creativity is a lot like collage. You get disparate elements clashing together, and then you get a reinterpretation, and a new context. The floral X-rays mimicking Victorian floral imagery are an example of that. They follow an established convention, but use a completely different technology. You get something new out of it.
You speak of the X-rays as something that is current, but do you remember the first thing that you made as a kid? Were you creative, growing up?
When I was fourteen years old I was painting an antelope from a photograph in school. The art teacher came over and did some sections of the eye and the head, and the way she did the textures and the brushwork, just lit up something for me. From that point on I’ve been hooked.
A Visual Communication degree opened up new ways of seeing. What did you take away and transfer to your art?
I was really, really fortunate in that I had an incredibly gifted photography lecturer. He taught very little about technique, but focused on teaching students how to teach themselves. All he was interested in was whether the final image served the original intention. He would tear work apart, and just drive students crazy. He made me realise photography could express any idea and within the medium is an endless range of expression. I’ve kept on exploring and experimenting with new methods and techniques ever since.
Do you still shoot on film?
No, and it’s because of the sheer inconvenience of it. I used to shoot music stuff in Dublin for a lot of small acts, sometimes working with Steve Averill, the designer for U2. I was living in a bed-sit and I would just convert the cupboard into a darkroom and work at night. Sometimes I would be in there at five AM drinking orange juice, smoking cigarettes, and feeling waves of nausea from all the smoke darkroom chemicals. It’s a mix that really makes you feel alive.
In your mind, is there an inter-play between artistic practice and commercial work?
They cross-pollinate. The X-rays came out of research and development for a commercial project. There’s a back and forth with the two. When you go into an agency looking for work, they’re not really interested in seeing commercial work because commercial work is largely homogenous. They want to be inspired by personal work. They want to see strong conceptual things. Then they’ll give you the standard job of photographing the smiling girl in the yoga outfit holding the glass of low fat milk.
It’s a project that’s far from done, and far from conventional. If you’ve ever been curious about how a roast chicken dinner looks under the X-ray, keep an eye on Brendan’s upcoming work. There’s also mention of an eerie doll’s house, and plans to explore X-rays of reptiles - fusing creepy with entertaining.
For more see Brendan’s work on his Art Pharmacy artist page here.
Interview and words by: Liz Strang