In 1962, Robert Ettinger published, The Prospect of Immortality, the book that gave birth to the idea of ‘cryonics’: the process of freezing a human body after death in the hope that scientific advances may one day bring it back to life.
Fifty years later, and over a period of six years (2006-2012), Murray Ballard has undertaken an extensive photographic investigation of the practice Ettinger inspired. The resulting book pays homage to Ettinger’s original, borrowing it’s title and reproducing extracts of text.
But Ballard’s book does not set out to be the definitive guide to cryonics, instead it traces his own journey through the tiny but dedicated international cryonics community. Beginning with the story that provoked his initial interest, which he happened across in the Guardian newspaper, about a French couple who had been preserved in a frozen state beneath their chateau in France, until their freezer broke down and their experiment came to an end. And going on to explore: ‘cryonicists’ training sessions in the English seaside town of Peacehaven; professional laboratories in Phoenix, Arizona and Detroit, Michigan; and the rudimentary facilities of an organisation recently founded in Russia, just outside Moscow.
Currently, there are approximately 200 ‘patients’ worldwide stored permanently in liquid nitrogen, with a further two thousand people signed up for cryonics after death.
Whilst members have often been ridiculed for their views, Ballard takes an objective stance, allowing the viewer to consider the ethics of the practice, and to decide whether members are caught up in a fantasy world or are actually furthering genuine scientific innovation. Alongside fascinating representations of the technical processes, Ballard sensitively portrays the people involved, offering a human dimension to his account of this 21st century attempt to conquer the age-old quest for immortality.