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Memento Perimortem

The Latin phrase, memento mori translates as “remember (that you have) to die.”


Post mortem photography is the practice of photographing the recently deceased.


The term perimortem, meaning, “occurring at the time of death or very near to it” is most commonly used in clinical settings and forensic medicine.


Oxford English Dictionary, 2001

A Dictionary of Forensic Science, Oxford University Press, 2012

Memento perimortem is a book of photography taken in the laboratory: capturing images of those about to die as part of a long-term investigation of the unknown futures of synthetic biology.  As I began working on the making of transgenic life, I was struck by a profound sense of responsibility for the bacteria I worked with.  On creating genetically altered organisms, I had to rationalise my relationship to them, questioning whether I had become owner, farmer, collaborator or progenitor.


As living organisms under my responsibility, I must either allow them to multiply exponentially, or contain them, terminating the lives of some, whilst allowing others to reproduce in a controlled manner.  At first, my instinct was to save them all.  This process proved unsuccessful however, as to preserve lives indefinitely would ultimately take up too much space and resources in the laboratory that I was privileged to share.


This book therefore serves as documentation of the termination of several generations of E. coli who died in the making of my work.  It is not a family tree, as many generations would have been terminated at one time, it is simply a memento perimortem: a brief moment of respect for the lives that I chose to end.


Images taken using an iPhone 6.

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