Haunting Infrared Nude Portraits Show What is Just Beneath the Surface

Edward Thompson infrared portraits

British documentary photographer Edward Thompson released an infrared medium-format photography book, The Unseen: An Atlas of Infrared Prints, in 2016 and is showing selected works from the book at the Saatchi Gallery in London until March 3.

NSFW Warning: The video below is age-restricted, so users must sign into an appropriate YouTube account to view it. However, the video is censored and does not feature explicit nudity. The content on Edward Thompson’s website, which is linked in this article, is not censored.

Thompson’s images are featured alongside multi-disciplinary artwork from numerous other artists in an exhibition called “The Way of All Flesh.”

“The Way of All Flesh beckons visitors to contemplate the ephemeral nature of existence, to gaze into the mirror of mortality, and to recognize the universal embrace of life’s impermanence. This exhibition is more than a collection of artifacts; it is a communion of minds, hearts, and flesh,” explains the Saatchi Gallery.

Thanks to his use of infrared color film, Thompson’s haunting portraits show about three millimeters below his subject’s skin.

“You haven’t seen nudes like these before,” Thompson says of his work in the video above.

The photographer began using the last remaining stock of Kodak Aerochrome 120 film in 2010, which culminated in his book, The Unseen. While some of his images got a lot of press at the time — and subsequent work has gotten a lot of attention, too — Thomson’s infrared portraits flew under the radar due to the nudity of it all.

That is still somewhat the case, and Thompson tells PetaPixel that YouTube “crushed” his new video with an 18+ certificate, which is why users must sign in to view the video. “It’s more BBC4 than Babestation… so that really sucks,” he adds. What Thompson is getting at is that his nudes aren’t pornographic.

“Usually nude models are photographed to appear beautiful or sublime in portrait photography, but in this bizarre IR film process I discovered while researching the early experiments scientists made with analog infrared film I found I could make studio portraits and see 3mm underneath peoples skin, making their veins stand out! It’s uncanny stuff,” Thompson says.

The Unseen: An Atlas of Infrared Prints is available now directly from Thompson’s website, along with his other books, including 2023’s When in the Lone Star State. “The Way of All Flesh” is free to visit at the Saatchi Gallery in London through March 3rd.