History's Shadow AB1, 2010 C-print frame: 41 x 31 inches / photo: 40 x 30 inches Ed. of 7

History's shadow

By David Maisel

David Maisel photographs the forgotten, the unseen, and the invisible. In 2006, he captured the unclaimed copper canisters containing the ashes of patients who died at a state-run psychiatric hospital, originally known as the Oregon State Insane Asylum, between 1883 and the 1970s. The result was Library of Dust, a gorgeous oversized book and exhibition. Then in 2008, Maisel collected a series of "Black Maps," huge aerial photographs of strip mines, lake beds, and other large features that aren't easily recognizable out of context but reveal curious and provocative patterns and topographies. His latest project is History's Shadow, an exploration of memory and excavation through x-rays of artifacts from San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. History's Shadow is on display at the Haines Gallery in San Francisco until June 4. Later this year, Nazraeli Press will publish the series as a monograph, including a short story by Jonathan Lethem. We are thrilled to present Maisel's ghostly images and his commentary on Boing Boing. — David Pescovitz

History's Shadow GM16, 2010 C-print frame: 31 x 41 inches / photo: 30 x 40 inches Ed. of 7

As a documentarian of sorts, my photographic projects present what might be considered technical, abstract images seen through a metaphoric eye. The ongoing themes of my work concern the dual processes of memory and excavation, as I examine what societies leave behind as artifacts and evidence of their cultures. In my current project, History's Shadow, I have utilized scientific images from art conservation archives to create new photographs. Specifically, in this series I have re-photographed x-rays depicting sculpture and artifacts from antiquity, scanning and digitally manipulating the selected source material.

History's Shadow AB2, 2010 C-print frame: 41 x 31 inches / photo: 40 x 30 inches Ed. of 7

Through the x-ray process, the artworks of origin become de-familiarized and de-contextualized, yet acutely alive and renewed. The ghostly images of these x-rays seem to surpass the power of the original objects of art.

History's Shadow GM12, 2010 Archival Pigment Prints Image: 40 x 30 inches / Frame: 41 x 31 inches Ed. of 7

These spectral renderings become transmissions from the distant past, conveying messages across time, and revealing the essential components that comprise these objects' core.

History's Shadow GM10, 2010 C-print frame: 41 x 31 inches / photo: 40 x 30 inches Ed. of 7

My x-ray-derived photographs fuse the temporal, the artistic and the scientific, permitting us to see into previously invisible realms. The shadow-worlds they occupy are informed by the black space surrounding the images, which in some instances becomes a vast nether world, and in others becomes the velvety ground of some kind of brain scan/portrait.

History's Shadow GM3, 2010 C-print frame: 31 x 41 inches / photo: 30 x 40 inches Ed. of 7

I began this series while a Scholar in Residence at the Getty Research Institute, and have continued it by working with material from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. I plan to develop this series over time, by collaborating with museums around the world whose holdings reflect the past of a broad range of cultures.

History's Shadow AV4, 2010 C-print frame: 41 x 31 inches / photo: 40 x 30 inches Ed. of 7

X-rays have historically been used for structural examination of art and artifacts, as they reveal losses, replacements, methods of construction, and internal trauma not visible to the naked eye.

History's Shadow AV3, 2010 C-print frame: 31 x 41 inches / photo: 30 x 40 inches Ed. of 7

By transcribing the inner and outer surfaces of their subjects simultaneously, these images form spectral images of indeterminate space, depth, and scale.

History's Shadow AB8a & AB8b, 2010 Archival Pigment Prints Image, each: 40 x 30 inches / Frame, each: 41 x 31 inches Ed. of 7

The more deeply we see inside objects from the distant past of human culture, the more fully these renderings transcend their documentary function, allowing us to glimpse the invisible.

History's Shadow GM20, 2010. C-print. frame: 31 x 41 inches / photo: 30 x 40 inches. Ed. of 7

Images courtesy of the artist and Haines Gallery

25 Responses to “History's shadow”

  1. hassenpfeffer says:

    Creepy-cool. I needed that first thing at work. Thanks, gents!

  2. MacBookHeir says:

    I’ve been enjoying BoingBoing for years now. The general content appeals to me and there are always seems to be a good balance between light topics and heavier topics.

    I have (although) always had problems with BoingBoings clumsy graphic design ethic. I know there are a lot of elements to juggle, but it always seems a bit difficult for me to navigate the BB sight. These new monumental Boing Boing “features” are a case in point. Personally I’ve never seen website pages (by anyone) presented in such an overwhelming manner

    For instance, this David Malsel feature seems to me to be about one-third larger than it needs to be. I use a smaller 17-inch screen and have difficulty handling the huge photographs and type.This sort of large format layout has been a hallmark of the other new BB features. I see this way of designing interruptive to content and needed to voice my thoughts. Malsel’s photos are quite provocative and nice.

    • holtt says:

      I’ll second your comment on layout. I’m on a 1440×900 display and can’t view the entirety of some images.

      Which is by the way why I saw the first image as a big butt in a TSA scanner.

  3. Rob Beschizza says:

    You guys need to get bigger monitors or iPads and suck up some of that big-picture love.

    • SamSam says:

      Oh come on. The top picture is 1293 pixels high! Here are W3 Scools’s most recent 2011 stats on the high-end screen resolutions of internet visitors: they don’t even list any resolutions with a hight greater than 1200. And no, it won’t show on the iPad either, which is 1024 pixels wide.

      It’s not a big deal, except for the defensiveness of your posts. You want to pictures on your site to be too big for 95% of your visitors, that’s fine, though a bit odd. But you’re making it sound like we’re coming to BB on computers from the early ’90s or something.

      I think the issue is that you yourself probably have a nice big monitor. I run into this all the time as a educational software programmer: what do you mean it’s slow on your high school’s network? It runs really fast at my office with multiple FiOS lines!

  4. Robert says:

    The human body X-rayed is much more interesting than these things, which have relatively few internal features. I hope there are more body parts!

  5. Rob Beschizza says:

    Unfortunately not (the license would apply only to our own work, i.e. the posts, design and any original images or other ‘creative’ we develop for the site ourselves) But I bet the artist would be pleased to hear from you.

    • Matt Katz says:

      Oh shiz. Well, I’ve written him. Hopefully I can get permission.

      And I think this page looks great on my tiny laptop.

  6. Matt Katz says:

    I love these special features. I look at them to learn how to make better pages.

    Speaking of – does the CC-BY-NC-ND license mean that I can use one of these photos in a non-commercial work with attribution and without modification or would that be considered a derivative work?

  7. Rob Beschizza says:

    The pics are never wider than your browser window, so making the window thinner is one way to view these images in full if you don’t like extremely large images.

    • MacBookHeir says:

      To add to my comment, it’s clear that BoingBoing wants to give these new, special features a more dramatic graphic feel, in order to match their very serious tone. If I recall correctly, the first of these features was about photos of deceased children and the overall feel was super heavy and almost too serious (in my view) – I know HTML and advanced HTML techniques limit what one can do drama-wise and graphic-wise. I’m just not sure if this new over-the-top mode/mood fits BoingBoing. Thanks!

      • David Pescovitz says:

        Actually, Mark Dery’s “Ghost Babies” feature was published just a month ago while the first of these special features, Maggie Koerth-Baker’s “Cassini: Trip Reset,” appeared more than a year ago (February, 2010). The entire archive of our special features is linked to at the very top of the front page, in the navigation bar.

        You said:
        “Personally I’ve never seen website pages (by anyone) presented in such an overwhelming manner”

        Rob, I’d take that as a compliment! ; )

        • MacBookHeir says:

          Well, overwhelming in the sense that the graphics lord over
          the concepts, ideas and actual text. As the best lovers know,
          sometimes bigger isn’t necessarily better. I’ve always thought
          BoingBoing works best in subtle form, not in bold statements.
          Graphic design for ANY website is a difficult boat to row,
          especially because websites have to be constantly updated
          and modernized (and fine tuned) in order to stay relevant.

  8. Blinde Schildpad says:


  9. emic says:

    This is many kinds of beautiful. And I love the detail coming through from the size of the pics. Two thumbs up.

  10. holtt says:

    A) Really pretty work

    B) If you clip off the Buddha pic from the bottom of the pic to the bottom of his nose, it looks like a Baby Got Back inspired TSA scan picture.

  11. feralman says:

    Beautiful, fresh. Congratulations!

  12. Matt Katz says:

    And David gave me permission!
    It is a poem about the importance of filling out proper paperwork.

  13. Ethan says:

    Who can told me….what is this things???

  14. SamSam says:

    You know what, I really like these features, but I’ll third the suggestion that the photos are too large in this one.

    I’m viewing with a full-sized browser window on a fairly huge 1680×1050 display. I cannot see the entirety of the first picture (Buddha?) nor the third picture.

    As Rob says, I can make my browser window much, much thinner to auto-shrink the images (it needs to get to about a third of the width of my screen before it starts changing), but that seems like bad design, not a feature.

    When I switched to 1440×900, a fairly common smaller size, everything was just ridiculously too big.

    I do like the format of the BB features, I think they’re great. In this case, though, some of the pictures just happen to be too big. It’s true.

    On a related note, was the cropped Buddha picture at the top of the main BB site cropped deliberately to look like a male crotch in an x-ray machine. Maybe it’s just me…

  15. SamSam says:

    I forgot to say: I really like these photos. I particularly like the woman in the fourth photo. The inner core gives a sense of how the sculture was made, how the layers were added, and simultaneously looks like a brain and start to the spinal column.

  16. holtt says:

    Teh webz, you’re doing it wrong!

  17. Jerril says:

    While I appreciate that my 24″ secondary LCD screen is rotated to a portrait aspect instead of landscape, allowing me to view this page without going totally squirrely, I have to echo the other complaints – this is not a very useful layout. “Smaller picture – click for bigger if you’re interested in the details” is a web design standard on graphics heavy pages for a reason.

  18. Rob Beschizza says:

    iPads are actually 1024 pixels tall when used properly. You’re not “rotating” it, are you? That’s wrong.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      The top image says that it’s 970px × 1,293px (scaled to 720px × 960px). On a 1280 by 1024 monitor, for example, all the browser bits cut the viewing area down to less than 960px.

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