Photographer Visits Creepy Cryogenic Chamber Where 200 Bodies Are Stored

A split image: on the left, a man stands in a lab beside a tall metallic cryogenic tank; on the right, a person lying in a box covered with bubble wrap and ice, wearing an orange face shield.

A photographer was given special access to a cryogenics facility in Scottsdale, Arizona that preserves over 200 human bodies and heads.

Alastair Philip Wiper spent two days at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation’s headquarters which he tells PetaPixel was both exciting and weird.

“It was amazing to be in the Patient Care Bay, surrounded by these dewars that look like something from a brewery, but are full of hundreds of dead bodies,” the photographer says.

The dewars are specialized containers that hold cryopreserved cadavers at minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 196 degrees Celsius).

A mummy-style sleeping bag in grey and red, propped up vertically against a white wall, positioned in a corner with contrasting light and shadow.
The bodies are placed upside down in sleeping bags inside the dewars. They are upside down so that if there is a problem that means liquid nitrogen cannot be topped up (such as an apocalypse) the heads will be preserved longest. Many choose to have only their heads preserved.
A tall, metallic, segmented sculpture resembling a vertical column with various hinged panels opened at different angles, displayed in a gallery setting with a white wall background.
The storage for heads inside the dewar. This storage pod can hold ten neuro-preserved heads.
A row of tall, shiny cylindrical tanks on wheels, labeled "alcor," positioned in a well-lit industrial room with exposed ceiling beams.
The Patient Care Bay at Alcor where over 200 human bodies, heads, and a few pets are cryopreserved.

“It’s a fascinating mix of science fiction and dead bodies,” says Wiper who adds that he is “really attracted to subjects that are wacky or taboo, or something other people might think was unpleasant.”

Wiper got Bloomberg Businessweek on board with the story but he says Alcor was keen to show the world what they are doing. Co-chief executive officer of Alcor, James Arrowood, tells Businessweek that he sees cryogenics as scientific research rather than a bizarre science fiction plot.

“I know what happens if I choose cremation,” Arrowood says. “I know what happens if I choose burial. I also know what the loss is to the science.”

A man in a gray t-shirt sits reclined in an office chair, gesturing while talking. his desk has dual monitors and is surrounded by framed certificates on the walls.
Co-CEO/President and General Council of Alcor, James Arrowood.
A person opens a large industrial refrigerator stocked with carefully labeled biomedical samples in a laboratory. the refrigerator has biohazard safety symbols on it.
A fridge full of M22, the solution used for vitrification of bodies after death.
A framed photo of a young child in a white dress on a gallery wall, surrounded by other framed photographs. a small plaque below the image provides details of the artwork.
Matheryn Naovaratpong is the youngest person to be cryopreserved at 2 years old. The oldest patient at Alcor was born in 1893.
A modern brewery's fermentation room with several large stainless steel tanks emitting vapor, connected by numerous overhead pipes and tubes, under a ceiling lined with exposed insulation.
The Patient Care Bay at Alcor where over 200 human bodies, heads and a few pets are cryopreserved.

Arrowood points to the brain of Albert Einstein which was removed for study and cut into pieces but there was no way of preserving it.

“Einstein’s brain is all over the world in little chunks,” he says. “And you can never get that data back.”

Photographing Inside a Cryogenic Chamber

Wiper went for a simple one-strobe setup with his camera on a tripod operated via a shutter release. “I want the images to be vibrant and alive (no pun intended!),” he says.

Image on left shows a clean, modern surgical room with various medical equipment. on the right, an artistic portrayal of a patient in surgery, covered with bubble wrap and plastic, for a surreal effect.
The Operating Room at Alcor (left) and a dummy showing the post-death cooling procedure.
A framed black and white portrait of a man next to a damaged cylindrical time capsule with its contents visible, sitting on a concrete floor against a white wall.
The original cryogenic storage dewar of Dr. James Bedford, the first person to be cryopreserved with successful achievement of long term care. After cryopreservation in 1967, Dr. Bedford had previously been cared for by three different companies under the supervision of his family. In 1987 Alcor assumed care of his body and moved it to an updated dewar.

The photographer says on one of the days he was there the facility had a body coming in that was to be neuro-preserved, meaning the head would be removed and put into storage.

“I think it came from California, and a team had been there to collect the body in the special van they have, keeping everything in the right condition until they got it to their facility,” he says.

“Everybody was very excited and nervy — it doesn’t happen every day and it is a very complicated procedure with a lot of responsibility — they don’t want to mess it up.”

Unfortunately, Wiper wasn’t allowed to photograph that and there were also a few patients he wasn’t allowed to show either.

A collection of nine framed photographs on a white wall, featuring portraits of diverse people, each with an accompanying nameplate.
Cryopreserved patients at Alcor.
A framed photograph of a happy dog with a blue collar, tongue out, displayed on a wall with a plaque reading "nutmeg 'dogustas maximus' lewis, born: september 26, 1999, cryopreserved: march 5, 2013.
Several pets are cryopreserved at Alcor.

Getting Your Body Cryogenically Preserved

Wiper says he has no plans to get himself preserved, but if he did it would set him back $200,000 for his entire body or $80,000 for just his head. Then there’s a monthly membership fee of £100. Businessweek noted that most of the members cover the cost by designating Alcor as the beneficiary of their life insurance policies.

An alcor membership card on a textured blue background, displaying emergency contact numbers and a red star logo. text includes details for 24-hour medical support.
An Alcor membership card, which contains information about what to do upon death.
A crisp image of a modern commercial building corner with textured white walls under a clear blue sky, featuring shrubs and blooming flowers along the sidewalk.
Exterior of Alcor building in Scottsdale, AZ.
A brewery interior with large stainless steel fermentation tanks, a person cleaning the floor, and shelves stocked with supplies.
The Patient Care Bay.

Living members wear medical alert bracelets to instruct hospitals to contact Alcor in the event of a life-threatening emergency. If the members die, their bodily fluids are replaced with special solutions that won’t become ice when the corpse is cooled to a chilly minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

Image credits: Photographs by Alastair Philip Wiper.