Commercial photographer Andrei Duman is back with another spectacular personal project. This time, Duman collaborated with acclaimed LEGO® artist Nathan Sawaya for the Organogenesis: Building Blocks of Life project.
“Organogenesis as a concept was born out of my continued attempt to cope with my mother’s fast-progressing dementia. I struggled to comprehend the notion that her brain was gradually breaking down, almost piece by piece, brick by brick, and I needed to create something to help me come to terms with it,” explains Duman.
“LEGO bricks, in their most basic form, are simple building blocks and [I] found the juxtaposing analogy of what can create with them fascinating to represent the imagery,” he continues.
Organogenesis also has a scientific meaning. It is the set of organized and integrated processes that turn an amorphous mass of cells into a complete, functioning organ. Through organogenesis, less-specialized cells become more specialized. For embryonic development, this process continues until birth. For plants, it occurs continuously until the plant dies.
For Organogenesis, Duman partnered with famed LEGO master builder Nathan Sawaya. The massive undertaking took 16 months, including LEGO builds of 13 of the most vital human organs. Some of the sculptures are also huge. The skull “organ” build is more than three feet tall, includes over 36,000 bricks, and weighs more than 65 pounds.
“When I was approached by Andrei with his concept to work together on a project to showcase different elements of the human body, I was instantly excited and quickly realized it was something that had never been explored before,” says Sawaya. “Andrei’s understanding of how to work with color and his attention to detail made him a great collaborating partner, and when his photography is combined with the actual LEGO sculptures, I believe it makes for a truly unique project.”
Someone viewing Duman’s Organogenesis images could be forgiven for thinking that there is computer-generated trickery at play. The photos are mind-bending. However, while post-production studio Recom Farmhouse was involved in the project, every single brick in each image is real and photographed by Duman.
“Each of the LEGO bricks that appear to be in movement in the images were photographed individually, to make the final image look as real as possible,” writes Heather Elder, Duman’s agent.
“In addition to the patience and precision that Nathan practiced during the construction, the photography was an intricate process. I wanted consistency in lighting and angle, even though I had to wait for different organs to be completed over the course of some months before photographing them. This meant ensuring that my studio setup remained the same throughout the project. Shooting the individual [LEGO bricks] separately was another challenge,” Duman explains.
He captured thousands of shots of individual bricks, which were later integrated into the final images. The post-production process included Duman, Sawaya, and Recom House; every detail was fine-tuned collaboratively. The project took more than 220 hours to complete.
Duman worked alongside Phase One to ensure that his camera equipment was up to the challenge of capturing LEGO bricks with such detail that the bricks appeared lifelike.
“The project was very complex in nature and demanded the type of gear that would allow for the final images to feel almost lifelike,” Duman explains. “All images were captured on the world’s most advanced camera system — the 151-megapixel Phase One IQ4, which boasts unrivaled image quality and industry-leading color accuracy. The Phase One provided me with that flexible workflow to achieve my creative vision, all in the highest resolution possible.”
The results are spectacular, and Duman and Sawaya quickly realized that their collaboration had potential for exhibition.
“While initially not part of the plan, as Nathan and I saw the project come together, we realized its potential for exhibition. The idea of showcasing these intricate LEGO organ creations, accompanied by my large-scale images, emerged as a powerful way to engage viewers. It’s exciting to think that a wider audience would be able to see and engage with the organs,” says Duman.
Nathan Sawaya’s “ART OF THE BRICK®” exhibit in Paris opens on November 29, and tickets are now available online. Alongside Sawaya’s award-winning LEGO sculptures, Duman and Sawaya’s Organogenesis collection is making its premiere.
To see more of Andrei Duman’s work, including his other projects like his X-ray photo series and Lake Powell: A 40-Year Visual Story of Water Crisis, visit Duman’s website and follow him on Instagram (@andreidumanphotography).
Image credits: All images © Andrei Duman. “Organogenesis: Building Blocks of Life,” is a collaboration between Andrei Duman, Nathan Sawaya and Recom Farmhouse.