Veasey and his small team work out of his Radar Studio, a converted Cold War spying station that he bought from the military in the middle of a field in the Kent countryside in the south of England. This isolated location is vital because of the potentially lethal levels and emission times of the x-rays that Veasey uses. “There are health issues meaning that you don't really want to have an x-ray machine next door to you,” he says.
To create his images, Veasey uses very slow film which allows for no grain and produces an extremely clear capture. His x-ray equipment is unlike the type you find in hospitals. While a typical hospital x-ray is about 100 kilovolts and lasts 0.2 second, Veasey’s hard-to-find machine is much more powerful, going up to 200 kilovolts and emitting an x-ray for far longer – sometimes as long as 20 minutes.
Understandably, with the potential exposure to such high levels of radiation, Veasey takes extreme precautions. He has constucted his studio so it is made of 10cm/4” thick blocks of a material called lignacite that prevents x-rays from passing through the walls. The floor is made from a high-density concrete that absorbs radiation, while the lead and steel door to enter the x-raying area weighs 1,250kg/2755lbs. “In my career I've had two exposures to radiation,” says Veasey. “That is two too many, because it stays with you for life. It's cumulative.”
“In my career I've had two exposures to radiation”
The ultra high levels of radiation also mean that when capturing human or animal forms, Veasey must use either a skeleton or recently deceased corpse that has been donated. “People do donate their bodies to art and science. And when they do, I'm in the queue,” he says.
Every image taken is to scale and captured on 35cm by 43cm (14”/17”) sections. That is more than enough room if he is x-raying a lightbulb, but for something like a VW Beetle, it means Veasey has to dismantle the whole vehicle, x-raying every single component individually – months and months of work.
“X-Raying a car all in one go is technically possible,” he says. “But it would produce a very confused image. I break everything down, x-ray it piece by piece, get everything as beautiful as it possibly can be, and then build it back together.”
Veasey eventually turns all his x-ray into digital files by scanning them on a 1980s drum scanner – “a beast of a scanner”, one that creates the “most fantastic, high-resolution” images, with much better detail than any other
scanning device he has tried. The files are then imported to a computer and patiently stitched together digitally with the visible overlap of the numerous x-ray sections removed.
Veasey admits that he derives much of the joy not just from the final images, but the journey he has taken to arrive there.
“The great thing about x-ray is that once you think that you know it, it comes and bites you in the backside and surprises you,” he says, admitting: “I often get it wrong. Everybody makes mistakes. And you learn by your mistakes. You can overexpose an image, you can underexpose an image. You sometimes don’t see enough tonal detail. It’s similar to photography, but because an x-ray is a transparent picture, you haven’t really got a focal point to deal with. And you haven’t got lighting to deal with. X-ray is a spectrum of light in its own right. It’s just invisible to the human eye.”
He concludes: “So I experiment and experiment and experiment. Trying different exposures, different distances and different films, just like any other photographer would. They’d use different lenses, different films or different ISO settings. I’m experimenting just like everybody else. Trying to get the best picture I can.”