It’s a shocking reminder of your first papercut or fall from a bike. It’s secretly blue and delicious. Garlic ruins it for vampires (but not for mosquitos in the campground). Our grandfathers insist that we are “blood of his blood” with every hug, while my maiden aunt swears the stuff runs “pure” through the veins of her ridiculous sausage-shaped dog. Despite our fascination with it, we know very little about blood. Luckily, photographer Eleanor Farmer has taken over the investigation for us with her project: Blood, a circulation of curiosities.
The photographer approaches blood from every angle of myth and science: medicine, art, common sense, family. The first photograph is the image of a mosquito’s mouth, perfectly "adapted for piercing the skin of plants and animals", according to the photographer. This is the female; male mosquitos typically feed on nectar and plant juices. The Aedes aegypti species doesn’t just drink- it transmits a lethal dose of dengue fever to 50 million victims every year. In a style characteristic of the project, the microscope-enhanced insect portrait is both beautiful and “terrifying”, says Farmer.
If every image of the collection has a story, some are thrillers: "A forensic scientist showed me photographs of crime scenes after they had been sprayed with Luminol; a chemical substance used to detect traces of blood. The blood spatter patterns glowed like galaxies and were disturbingly beautiful. Recreating a velocity impact spatter pattern using my own blood, a hammer and a baking tray was not something I would have anticipated doing when I started the project. I wore a black bin bag so that I didn’t get blood on my clothes. I’m glad nobody rang the doorbell; it would have been a tricky scenario to explain".
The aesthetic and conceptual approach of Farmer’s work is marked by a deliberate effort to avoid photographing the blood; each caption becomes required reading. "The images are made in a very controlled manner but the ways in which I find a subject are open to chance. I enjoy feeling unconstrained by the boundaries of art and science. It’s about trying to rationalize and understand something that is incredible, terrifying and beautiful," says the photographer.
Farmer’s own first contact with blood was conceptual, an abstract –rather than visual- happening: "I was 10 when my father, at the age of 40, contracted Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood. His skin was a pale manifestation of the invisible war that raged beneath. During the two years of his treatment, words such as platelets, T-cells and Blast Cells became part of my world. Ultimately his red blood cells were overpowered by something I was unable to visualize”.
Has Farmer become inured to pain and injury through her work? Not quite. "I witnessed a car accident whilst I was working on the project”, she says, “The driver had a cut to his head and there was a lot of blood. Seeing blood beyond skin still shocks because it’s a reminder of our mortality. It would be disturbing if that changed."
Eleanor Farmer was born in London in 1983. She trained as a Graphic Designer at Central St Martins College of Art and Design and Bath Spa University College before moving to Paris where she worked as a travel writer and developed her interest in photography. She now lives in London and graduated with a Masters in Photojournalism with distinction from the University of Westminster in 2011. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Telegraph online, Newsday (NY), Rough Guides, ITV News, and the London Evening Standard. She regularly writes book and exhibition reviews for Foto8. Eleanor has a particular interest in the visual representation of human health. She has photographed the plastic surgery team working at St Thomas’ Hospital and a pioneering project to improve the mobility of children with hemiplegia for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. In March 2011 she was commissioned by CBM to document the stories of patients being treated at Lahan Eye Hospital in Nepal. This year she will be travelling to Burundi and Malawi to record the stories of patients with neglected tropical diseases.