Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Murray Ballard and I take photographs.
When did you wake up today and what did you have for breakfast?
I woke up at 7.00 and I didn’t have my normal breakfast – we ran out of smoothie ingredients – so I had a cup of black coffee and a pastry –an apricot Danish.
What makes you happy in your day-to-day life?
I’ve recently realised that exercise is what changes my mood most. Which is something that is a new thing to me – when I’m not on a shoot now I’ll go for a short run first thing in the morning.
What did you do for PERDIZ?
I provided photographs from my new book, The Prospect of Immortality, about cryonics – the process of freezing a human body after death in the hope that scientific advances might one day restore life.
How did you first come across the world of cryonics?
I first came across it just over ten years ago, when I was a photography student at the University of Brighton. I was interested in the relationship that photography has with death, so I started a photography project that set out to photograph stuff around the theme of preservation: Egyptian mummies, seed banks, museum archives, libraries, taxidermy, all these sorts of things. One of the things I jotted down was cryogenic preservation, but I didn’t really know anything about it – I thought it was something that only existed in the realms of science fiction. Then, eventually, I came across a newspaper article in March 2006 titled: “Freezer Failure Ends Couple’s Hopes of Life after Death.”
That sounds like a good article.
It was the story of a French family, which actually became the first chapter in the book. The story is of this failed experiment by a retired Parisian doctor where he had frozen his wife in 1986. She died of ovarian cancer and he froze her body in a modified industrial freezer. It was all running off electricity, very DIY. When he died, his son preserved him and kept him in the same freezer as his wife. Then the son – who was in and out of the courts to keep them frozen because it’s illegal in France to do this – went back to the chateau where they were frozen to check on them one month in 2006 and the freezer had broken down. He found the bodies as they were decomposing and they were cremated by the authorities. In that article there was a quote from a man who was President of the Cryonics Institute, which was my introduction to cryonics as something that existed in a more professional way.
I couldn’t afford to go to the US, but eventually I found a small group in the UK that met up 2 or 3 times a year to practice the initial stages of a cryosuspension. Taking out the bodily fluids and replacing them with a protectant – a sort of human antifreeze using water and pumps and a practice dummy, so I photographed that. If one of them died, the others would take care of it. It was very early days. In the ten years I’ve been making the project it’s come a long way.
Patient storage demonstration, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona. August 2009.
Would you say the people you’ve met are optimistic about the future?
Above all I think they are incredibly brave. To confront the complete unknown as they are is a very brave thing to do. They are mainly people who tell me how much they love life. I came across a handful of people who would maybe like to wipe the slate clean, who think that life in the future might be better for them, but predominantly these are people who have an enormous lust for life and are very excited about the future. That’s the spirit I found it is done in, a sort of: “Why wouldn’t you do this? I just want more of this wonderful thing.”
Trygve ice-bathing, Heggelielva, Sørkedalen, Norway. April 2015.
Has your view of it changed in ten years?
When I started this project and would show it to picture editors and people like that, it would get swept aside and laughed about as a bit silly. I really feel like that’s changed. Although it’s still very far-fetched and the idea of it working the way it is happening now is still pretty unlikely… people are taking it a lot more seriously. When people started talking about nanotechnology in the 1980s it was too abstract, people couldn’t get their heads around it. It was unimaginable. Now of course it’s a different situation.
If all my friends and family signed up tomorrow I think I would probably sign up pretty quickly. I feel like that’s the tipping point for cryonics. How many people would all sign up if everyone else they knew signed up? Would you not want to take a punt on it as well?
Is there something that you have recently changed that has made your life better?
Well, two days ago I bought a new camera. A medium format digital camera which is a big deal to me and I’m pretty excited about it.
Can you recommend somewhere in your city that makes you feel happy?
The Duke of York’s Picture House in Brighton, I think it’s the oldest cinema in the UK. It’s fantastic! It only has one screen but you always know you’re going to see something interesting there.
And a song that puts a bounce in your step?
Well most of the music I’ve been listening to lately is very melancholy. I’ve been listening to Nick Cave’s new album Skeleton Tree a lot recently. It’s possibly the complete opposite of something that would put a bounce in your step, but I find it quite life affirming, so there’s your answer.
A food that makes your stomach happy?
What was the last piece of good news that you remember reading?
That the UK generated electricity for 24 hours without using any coal-fired power stations a couple of days ago, which filled me with optimism that we’re moving in the right direction.