Illustrating the decay of dead bodies without being too gruesome is a challenge, one met with gusto and originality by set designers Lightning + Kinglyface. We asked them how they came up with their ideas for the shoot.
When asked to be involved with the visuals for Mosaic's piece on the descriptive stages of decomposition, the passages of the human body through bloating, chemical reactions of gases, liquids and salts stood out to us: the fermenting sugars that produce gaseous by-products, the inflation and eventual deflation of the human body. This passing of chemicals and reactions between the body and the earth are all incredibly visually stimulating.
By taking something that is omnipresent and most human beings use daily – toilet paper – we wanted to represent the body and its ability to decompose entirely into the earth, enriching the earth and completing a cycle. The aim was to create sculptures that represent this transition using the toilet paper.
We did this by combining salt crystals and leaving them to soak up coloured dyes in liquids before exposing them to various conditions including tanks of water on the day of the shoot. This way we could visually represent their decomposition over a period of time.
We worked with photographer Jess Bonham to develop our ideas and to make sure the final images were not only visually strong but also contextualized.
Shot 1 - Death
The toilet roll is a visual aid to illustrate the human body leaving the complex pattern of the living. Falling from the infrastructure of this precious thing we call life. Death is a tumble that happens to us all.
Shot 2 - Bloating
The body will change form and shape as it decomposes. One of the first processes is bloating, the liquids in the body rise to the surface and start to leak out.
Shot 3 - Bursting
The body slowly releases an intricate mixture of gases and liquids. Whilst remaining whole still, the outer layers of skin and delicate, fragile elements of the body peel away.
Shot 4 - Unravelling
The body is left to completely unravel giving itself to the earth and this is the point when colonisation can happen. The body is completely open to the elements.
Shot 5 - New life
New life begins from the nutrients left behind after a body completely decomposes. This shot represents the way the dead are still a part of the living through vital nutrients and much more.
See the final images in the Mosaic piece 'This is what happens after you die'.