Photo Series of Handmade ‘Cells’ Visualizes the Search to Cure Cancer

Handcrafted cells

Photographer and digital artist Rubén Álvarez shot a series of handcrafted cells to represent the process of blood cell formation, taking inspiration from his fight against salivary gland tumors and facial paralysis.

Personal Projects for Creative Freedom

Based in Spain, Álvarez specializes in advertising campaigns. He has been commissioned by tech giants like Adobe and Microsoft and has worked on campaigns for Porsche, Bugatti, and other international brands.

Although he infuses his commercial work with his personality and creativity, it’s his personal projects that give him the freedom to prepare and capture anything he can imagine. One such project is “Haematopoiesis.”

Haematopoiesis is a deeply personal body of work that arose from Álvarez’s fight for life. He received several surgeries on his head due to the continuous appearance of pleomorphic adenomas — the most common type of salivary gland tumor. During his search for possible cures, he discovered the hematopoiesis process.

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“[It] is the process of the formation of blood cell components and is used as a base in the research of a cure for cancer,” Álvarez tells PetaPixel. “It has not been a solution to my problem, but it inspired me to create my own hematopoiesis process, mixing my ultraviolet project where I transform the most unimaginable objects into art, with a very important part of my own story.”

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“Some of the shapes created by magnetic fields are very similar to how some cells look through a microscope, but in such a large series I decided to give myself the freedom to create a big part of the cells simply by letting myself be guided by the shapes and colors that I liked the most,” he adds.

For the cells, Álvarez used a mixture of ultraviolet paint, liquid thickener, ferrofluid, and magnets of different shapes and sizes. Following numerous tests and experiments, he found a way to obtain a variation of colors, textures, and silhouettes. All of which made it possible for him to create such an extensive collection of photos without them becoming repetitive.

Handcrafted cells

The project consists of several parts, with the cell photos being just one of them. One of the following series involves creating images with the mask that the doctors used during Álvarez’s radiotherapy treatment. He painted and photographed it to create a series of photos, while the other parts of the project directly related to the process of haematopoiesis and his personal history.

Photography That Inspires Hope for the Future

Throughout these series of photos, Álvarez hopes to raise awareness about the haematopoiesis process and how it can help others in similar conditions to his. He also wants to spread the word about the process itself because “it is something that happens in our bodies thousands of times every day, and the more people know about it, the more people will be able to collaborate with researchers and hopefully, that will lead to finding a cure for this very complicated disease a little sooner.”

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So far, Álvarez’s health journey has been difficult. Following a couple of surgeries to remove lumps located on the left side of his head, he has been at risk of facial paralysis. Even though the last surgery went well according to doctors, Álvarez soon realized they were wrong — his facial nerve was completely cut unbeknownst to him until he ordered additional tests, which showed he has additional lumps inside his head.

He underwent a complex 14-hour surgery at one of the two only units specializing in facial paralysis in Spain. After that, he had to start a treatment of 27 radiotherapy sessions which all left a toll on his body and mind.

“However, all of this inspired me to create this project, it inspired me to create my own Haematopoesis process, the process of creating blood cells and therefore life,” he explains. “Each and every one of the images represents a new opportunity.”

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“My fight continues, so this project will not have a closed ending yet, until the moment that I can end this chapter of my life,” Álvarez continues. “For this reason, I will donate 10% of the profits from primary sales to CrisCancer, an independent non-profit organization, fully dedicated to facilitating and developing research to beat cancer as a serious health issue.”

In addition, each Álvarez’s photo is royalty-free for non-commercial use in magazines, medical journals, books, publications, and other media related to the research and treatment of cancer and rare diseases.

More of Álvarez’s work can be found on his website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photos by Rubén Álvarez.