This stunning photographic & CG series explores the best and worst bits of humanity

This series by digital artist Markos Kay and photographer Jan Kriwol explores the essence of our human bodies.

Although we often like to think we’re invincible, our human bodies are fragile, and sometimes we don’t treat them as well as we should. Made up of many complex, functioning systems, our bodies are a form of beauty all on their own.

Polish photographer Jan Kriwol (@jankriwol) and London-based digital artist Markos Kay (@mrk.ism) teamed up to create this intriguing project based on the romantic, fragile and vital aspects of human life.

Human After All is a striking series that combines real environments - shot by Jan in Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Brussels and Cape Town among other cities – with 3D renderings of a virtual body. The body is made up of blood vessels representing the human circulatory system that Markos generated using particle simulations.

By stripping down the human form to its very functional essence, the series challenges the juxtaposition between our bodies and our urban environment, alongside challenging the barriers of racial and sexual differences.

Jan and Markos were inspired by Antony Gormley sculptures and classical anatomical illustrations, which combine life-drawing poses with anatomy such as the illustrated work of Andreas Vesalius, Giulio Casserio and Henry Gray.

This project is rather different to the form Markos’ work normally takes (of which we’ve featured) – a self-described “ongoing abstraction and digitalisation of molecular biology and particle physics through a series of generative simulation experiments”. Essentially, his work acts as experiments of the invisible aspects of natural sciences. He’s also the creative director of design consultancy epoche, and lectures with a focus in art and science.

Jan is normally a conceptual and advertising photographer based in Warsaw, but the idea for this series came to him a couple of years ago – he only needed the help of Markos to put it into action.

Jan and Markos tell me about Human After All.

Miriam Harris: How did you get involved with this project?

Markos Kay: "I was approached by Jan Kriwol about this idea and I immediately jumped on board as his work is amazing and I had always wanted to do a project on anatomy as I’m very passionate about classical anatomical illustrations such as those by Vesalius, Casserio and of course, Grey’s Anatomy."

Jan Kriwol: "The idea for the series came to me few years ago when I saw my girlfriend’s drawing of a circulatory system smoking a cigarette. Then it came back to me when I saw Anthony Gormley sculptures. I described my vision to few CGI artists and all of them gave up - so did I after few tries. Everything changed when I found Markos' work on his agent's website and I knew that he could be the only person to handle it. When I described him my idea he said okay straight away."

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MH: What was the main message you wanted to convey? 

MK: "We wanted to portray the body in a romantic way, naked to its core, revealing natural beauty and complexity and the irony of its mundane existence in everyday situations. In a way these images serve as a reminder of how extraordinary we are as we go about our ordinary lives. We wanted to show how the human condition constantly wavers between extremes, irony and romanticism, postmodernism and modernism, spiritual and material."

JK: "Irony arises through the contrast between the surreal representation of the body and the mundane nature of its man-made surroundings. Yet, a sense of romanticism is invoked in the intricate and natural structure of the circulatory system that is reflected in the branches of the trees, both signifying life."

MH: Talk us through the creative process behind creating the circulatory system human skeleton.

MK: "The biggest challenge for this project was creating an anatomical character that looked life-like, visually complex and integrated within the real environment. We started off with 3D models of humans connected to a basic model of the circulatory system. We spent a lot of time experimenting with different postures using photos of real people that Jan took as reference points. Often at times we had to exaggerate the posture greatly so that it could translate visually with the deconstructed structure of the circulatory system.

"Another challenge was creating the fine blood vessels of the circulatory system so that they also looked natural and organic. The solution was to use the simple version of the circulatory system with the main arteries and veins and use this as a base to grow the finer blood vessels. To do this we used particle simulations that mimic organic movement to generate the blood vessels to give them a natural and detailed feel."

MK: "For the overall look and texture we referred to images of plastination, a method of preserving human tissue invented by Gunther von Hagens.  In order to integrate the anatomical renderings with the photos we used camera mapping techniques to recreate the environment in 3D to make sure that all the reflections and shadows were accurate."

MH: Why did you decide to represent humans in this form?

MK: "The circulatory system, the heart, veins, arteries and blood are symbol of life. It’s what maintains our bodies, nourishes the cells, carries oxygen for the production of energy and removes waste products. It is a circle of life that happens within our bodies. Thus deconstructing the body down to the circulatory system is like reducing it to the very essence of life, which reveals such delicate, almost ethereal forms that highlight the fragile nature of life."

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MH: How does this project break down social barriers such as racial and sexual differences?

MK: "Obviously race is only skin-deep so it completely disappears when you only look at the human body in this way. For gender we experimented with both male and female 3D models to grow our blood vessels in, and we found that using a female model gave more gender-neutral results. In this way we wanted to show how the processes that keep us alive are the same in all of us regardless of where we come from or our sexual characteristics."

MH: How did you decide on locations, compositions and subject between the two of you? 

MK: "There was a constant back and forth between us, Jan would send me suggestions for locations and poses, and I would experiment with them in 3D. We both had a say in both the photography and the 3D modelling. There was a lot of trial and error involved, and a lot of iterations until we made our final selection."

JK: "At the beginning we listed few activities we would like to show in the series. We both knew that finding a proper technique and eventually creating the CGI circulatory system may take even a few months. I had time to find, shoot and propose shots to Markos.  For the poses it was my girlfriend who was a model based on whom Mark was creating our guy.

JK: "It took much more time then we initially assessed for this project. Many of the original locations were changed as I found new ones that were better - not only in terms of composition but also matched the other pictures with colour and light."  

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MH: How was working on this different to your other projects?

MK: "My work tends to be more abstract so this was a departure for me as it involved creating something that looked photorealistic yet surreal at the same time. Outside of my commercial work, this was the first time I collaborated with another artist but we quickly developed a great working relationship."

JK: "In my work as an advertising photographer I’m used to work with CGI but this time it was different because we had to create something that we could only imagine.  That’s why I’m so glad that Markos enthusiastically agreed to work with me on this project, as I was sure that he was the best artist to do it. In his body of work he digitally recreates not only a biological structure like this, but goes deeper into the structure of reality and reimagines the quantum level"