Horizontal Humans

The Photographers' Gallery

Originally commissioned by The Photographers' Gallery (London), Horizontal Humans is a timelapse 3D scan animation. The work follows a series of taphonomic experiments, charting the decay of pig carcasses in a field in rural England.

Anatomists call the pig “horizontal human” because of what we share inside1

Humans and pigs are anatomically and physiologically incredibly similar. They share a similar muscle to fat ratio, similar organ position, a similar skeletal arrangement. Our skin is similar to their skin2, so much so that tattoo artists train on pork joints from the butchers. Talk of pig to human transplants and blood transfusions has created tabloid headlines and been considered by commercial biotech companies such as PPL Therapeutics, famous for cloning Dolly the Sheep3 4.

Our similarities do not rest at the physical; our affinity extends to the personality and cognitive abilities of pigs. They are said to exhibit complex emotions, and infamously fill the 'human' role in Orwell's Animal Farm5 6. Historically they themselves (not their owners) have even been held accountable for crimes and punished in accordance to our own laws7. Their flesh is the most readily eaten by mankind, constituting over a third of all meat consumption8. It is also said their flesh tastes most similar to human flesh, owing to the human cannibals of New Guinea calling their victims 'long pigs'9.

It is the similarity of their flesh and ours that make pigs perfect human substitutes for the study of decomposition. At TRACES (University of Central Lancashire) pig carcasses are monitored from the moment of death to eventual decomposition. This process helps us understand our own bodily decay and crucially assists in pinpointing the exact moment of death when a partially decayed human body is encountered in crime scene investigations.

An array of bizarre, staged scenarios unfold across a piece of Lancashire landscape, where close to one hundred pig carcasses are monitored annually. The pigs' bodies are framed on concrete plinths, hung from scaffold frames, half buried. They are hidden in plastic wheelie bins, in suitcases, under tarpaulins. They are shot, burned, tattooed. They lie with plastic bags on their heads, or with the tell-tale scars of a forensic autopsy along their torso. Each act is carried out with clinical precision, under strict guidelines and with acute scientific rigour. Every act is a replication or a simulation of a possible human demise.

ScanLAB Projects
fetal_pig02 Image courtesy from Biology Corner CC-BY-NC-3.0
  1. G. Price - The Red Hourglass: Lives of Predators, New York, Delta, 1998

  2. T.P. Sulivan et al. - 'The pig as a model for human wound healing', Wound Repair and Regeneration, Mar-Apr, 2001, pp. 66-7.

  3. R. Winston - 'Pig heart transplants for humans in three years', The Mirror, 7 November 2008

    see article source (accessed 29th July 2015).
  4. Jeffrey. S - 'Pig to human transplants', The Guardian, 3 January 2002

    see article source (accessed 5th August 2015).
  5. Wilkinson. T - 'Pigs exhibit complex emotions, claims study', The Independent, 28 July 2010

    see article source (accessed 28th July 2015).
  6. Bekoff. M - 'Are Pigs as Smart as Dogs and Does It Really Matter?' Animal Emotions | Psychology Today, 29 July 2013

    see article source (accessed 28th July 2015).
  7. Essig. M - Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig, New York, Basic Books, 2015. p97. 'when a young pig was hanged for killing a five-year-old boy near Chartres in 1499, the pig's owners were fined, not for the failing to control the pig but for failing to protect the child, who had been left in their care. The guilty for the murder itself lay entirely with the animal itself.'

  8. 'Sources of Meat' Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 25 November, 2014

    see article source
  9. G. Price - The Red Hourglass: Lives of Predators, New York, Delta, 1998

  10. I. Jeffrey - 'Research Aesthetics: Science and Photography', in B. Burbridge (ed.), Revelations, London, MACK, 2015, p. 41.

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The Hanging

Horizontal Humans presents this process through the eyes of an 'impartial observer' the terrestrial 3D laser scanner. Here we navigate a cloud of over a billion precisely measured points that form spatial snapshots of the decomposition process. This data is forming a new type of spatial evidence for the research teams, a perfect 3D snapshot that can be investigated remotely and in perpetuity. These digital doppelgängers are frozen in time at the moment they are collected. The data is not subject to weather, to interruption, to disturbance. As such they can form a critical tool in capturing that which is later deemed to be important, but on first inspection was not.

In Horizontal Humans the evidence drifts from impartiality to narrative, from 'fact' to framed or staged view. The pointcloud is sometimes indisputable while at other times it drifts into abstraction, allowing the edges of the images to fade into illusion. The essence of the scene remains, the details remain, but the investigation is left to evolve in the eye of the viewer and not given solely to the expert witness.

Society and the law continue to consider the position of the photograph as an empirical register of evidence. We are all too familiar with the medium's ease of manipulation and the computer's ability to mimic photo realism either in still image or in film. Our relationship with these two dimensional images of the world is now much more complex, and their technical processing shapes our digital world view.

Laser scanning is a relatively new form of capture and is enjoying a heyday of perceived reliability, impartiality and freedom from bias. It is a tool of 'measure' in the first instance and not a tool of 'sight'. LIDAR's users are, for the large part, precision driven engineers and surveyors - they pursue the truth, they are trained to be impartial witnesses to the morphology of space.

Horizontal Humans both endorses and questions this reliability. The project suggests that the act of framing, staging and designing are alive and present in the art of scanning, or at least they can be. This is the anomaly of 3D scanning as an image making process - the act of data 'capture' and the act of image 'framing' can be dramatically removed from one another. On the one hand the data collection can be impartial but the framing and revisiting of that data can be highly emotive. On the other hand the moment of capture itself can bias a dataset and thus heavily author the spatial 'reality.'

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Timelapse 3D scanning
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The Hanging - detail
Ethics + Animal Welfare

Horizontal humans depicts a series of experiments conducted in 2015 at TRACES, The University of Central Lancashire's Taphonomic Research in Anthropology: Centre for Experimental Studies. The research conducted at TRACES undergoes rigorous review by UCLAN ethics and animal welfare committees before any experiments are conducted. All animals involved in the research are sourced from food-chain suppliers. They are humanely slaughtered in accordance with E.U. and UK government regulation before any research activity begins. The experiments 3D scanned at TRACES form a body of ongoing research under the supervision of Peter Cross.