All images by Al Mefer. Used with Creative Commons permission.
Memory, thoughts, and emotions are all popular subjects for all kinds of photography pursuits, and we’ve put the spotlight on a good number of them here. It’s always interesting to see how photographers play with some of the most visceral concepts of our humanity. A perfect example is Phantoms of the Brain, a series by Spanish photographer and visual artist Al Mefer, which uses long exposures to illustrate the “imagery of a tortured soul.”
Mefer drew inspiration from a number of scientific and psychological elements, including anatomy, neuroscience, anxiety, and depression. Instead of exploring these topics with human subjects and representations, he turned his attention to the resemblance of the human brain’s dendrites in nature. He explains in his set’s description:
The anatomist Wilhelm His coined the term “dendrites” (from Greek “déndron”, translated as “tree”) to describe the branch-like extensions of neurons, the basic units of the brain, that propagate electrochemical information towards other cells. Since then, neuroscientists employ the simile of the tree to describe neurons as of their structural resemblance. In this photography series called “Phantoms of the Brain” trees are depicted in turbulent landscapes full of fog and rays of light as imagery of a mind sickened by obsessions, anxiety, depression and despair.
At first, Phantoms of the Brain may look like an abstract experiment in landscape or night photography, achieved by using a drone with lights and shooting in long exposure. But, after learning about the idea presented by Mefer, it’s easy to see where he drew the connection. Expressions like “foggy memory” and “cloudy judgment” come to mind. Thoughts of a troubled psyche surface. We begin to imagine the electrochemical signals represented by the fuzzy light streaks zooming between the folds of the brain, passing through one “dendrite” tree to the other. It’s a great example of how symbolism can craft powerful imagery that encourages alternate perspectives.