Founded in 1887 by the London Missionary Society, the Medical Faculty of The University of Hong Kong is among the oldest Western-style medical schools in the Far East. It was there that anatomy professor Francis Chang and a team of students began assembling a collection of human anatomical specimens—bones, muscles, brain tissue, hearts, and other organs—that they carefully embalmed and mounted as teaching aids in the 1960s. The university website refers to the specimens as “silent teachers…enabling students to enrich their knowledge in Anatomy.”
A few years ago, the university invited celebrated Hong Kong photographer Chan Dick to shoot specimens from the collection. With the help of Dr. Chan Lap Ki, Chan spent a few days browsing through the collection and selecting the pieces he wanted, then used a Hasselblad digital camera to shoot the specimens in highly detailed close-up, black and white against black backgrounds.
The result is a series of stunning chiaroscuro images that give new life to these half-century-old specimens. Under the gaze of Chan’s camera, a human clavicle transforms into a sinuous abstract sculpture. Striated muscle tissue becomes the geological strata of a roadcut or the surface of an alien planet. A cast mold of the inner lung becomes a flowering tree.
“I would observe the specimens from 360 degrees, appreciate their unique forms and textures, and try to feel the inner energy they radiate,” Chan explains. “I would imagine how ‘they’ would want to be portrayed, as if they were still living beings.”
Chan chose to shoot the specimens in black and white to eliminate their artificial coloring and to create a sense of "distance and surreality” in the final images. He didn't want to provide pedagogical illustrations for an anatomy textbook—he wanted to change the way we see the human body.
“What shocked me the most after six days of shooting is that the human body really is a universe of itself,” Chan says. “If you look close enough you find landscapes, trees, flowers, river valleys.”
Or, as the medieval Hermetic philosophers would say: As above, so below.