Two years ago Scientific American magazine sent me to the University of Texas at Austin to borrow a human brain. They needed me to photograph a normal, adult, non-dissected brain that the university had obtained by trading a syphilitic lung with another institution. The specimen was waiting for me, but before I left they asked if I’d like to see their collection.
I walked into a storage closet filled with approximately one-hundred human brains, none of them normal, taken from patients at the Texas State Mental Hospital. The brains sat in large jars of fluid, each labeled with a date of death or autopsy, a brief description in Latin, and a case number. These case numbers corresponded to micro film held by the State Hospital detailing medical histories. But somehow, regardless of how amazing and fascinating this collection was, it had been largely untouched, and unstudied for nearly three decades.
Driving back to my studio with a brain snugly belted into the passenger seat, I quickly became obsessed with the idea of photographing the collection, preserving the already decaying brains, and corresponding the images to their medical histories. I met with my friend Alex Hannaford, a features journalist, to help me find the collection’s history dating back to the 1950s.