Photographer Murray Ballard says he expected a cryonics facility to look like something out of a sci-fi movie scene. But when he first walked into a lab in Phoenix, AZ, it looked more like an industrial warehouse than a high-tech research facility. Still, the operation was set up for freezing bodies after death in the hopes of reviving them in the future. Ballard says he was intrigued by the contrast between such an ambitious endeavor — and the somewhat unremarkable architecture and equipment.
In his conversation with producer Rehman Tungekar, Ballard talks about the inspiration behind the project and why the people he met want to escape death.
RT: What's the process by which someone becomes preserved in this way?
MB: Well, it varies a lot from patient to patient, but [in] the initial stages of the cryonic suspension...the patient is placed into an ice bath and cooled in water and ice. And whilst that's happening they use a [heart-lung machine] and they inject a series of what they call cryoprotectants; it’s sort of like a human antifreeze substance. So these are being injected and pumped into the body to try and keep the patient's cells in as liquid a state as possible, because obviously as you cool a patient down and you freeze something, the cells expand and break up. That's what they're trying to prevent.
RT: This is all done with the assumption that in the future these people will be brought back to life, but as it stands now, is there any real reason to believe that that will happen?
MB: It's difficult for me to say. I'm not a scientist and I'm not a cryonicist myself. There's research that's being done with the liver, where a human liver has been taken down to cryonic temperatures and then has been successfully thawed out and doesn't show any signs of being damaged. But, of course, we're all very aware that a liver is a very distant organism to a brain in a human being. It's a very, very long way away, as far as I'm concerned. I feel like my job is really to put this subject out there for discussion and thought, and to kind of question it and inspire a conversation around it. I'm not really trying to predict how likely it is that this will work.
RT: And as part of this project you also spoke to a few people that were planning to be preserved. Did you talk to them at all about why they made that decision?
MB: Yeah, of course. I've met a lot of people that have time to be cryopreserved and also I've been working on the project for so long that quite a few of those people are now in cryosuspension. Actually, I met Robert Ettinger…[who’s] widely credited with starting the whole cryonics movement...He died and was cryopreserved in 2011 at the age of 91... Everybody has their reason and they vary quite a lot, actually. They vary from people who are just petrified of the idea of dying to people that are just in this for the adventure...
RT: Were certain explanations more popular than others? Also, for example, did it differ by country?
MB: I wouldn't say it differed by country. For instance, I mentioned [cryonicists] Alan and Silvia Sinclair...They ran a number of rest homes. And so they were surrounded by old age and death through their professional life... I think just that constantly being surrounded by death on a day-to-day basis... made [Alan] look for some sort of alternative… I think the thing is, for me, when I started, is that my assumption was that everybody thought that this was definitely going to work, and of course I was incredibly skeptical. But after doing this project for six years, cryonicists are actually pretty skeptical themselves. The cryonicist's answer is, "If I want to live forever, I stand a much better chance if I'm cryonically preserved than if I do if I am buried or cremated... I could be cryonically preserved, I could be buried in the ground, or I could be cremated. And cryonics is really the only logical choice."
These slideshow galleries are a collaboration with FlakPhoto, an independent photo/arts collaborative that promotes the discovery of photographic image-makers from around the world. Since 2006, creator Andy Adams has staged exhibitions, publications and public conversations that foster photography culture on- and offline. FlakPhoto is based in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.