An X-ray demands full transparency from its subject, which is why British photographer Nick Veasey uses X-ray imaging to reveal the inner beauty — or utter emptiness — of familiar objects. “When you take away the superficial surface that you’re used to looking at, and explore it from the inside out, you realize how beautiful things can be,” says Veasey.
To accompany this week’s cover story by Steven Brill, TIME commissioned Veasey to take X-ray images of medical supplies, including acetaminophen bottles, IV bags and syringes. Using low-dose radiation from one of his three X-ray machines, Veasey turned the supplies into pellucid still lifes.
“With X-rays, normally there is something within that you can’t see, but everyone knows what a Band-Aid is made of. At first I thought, how on earth can you make a bandage or gauze interesting?” says Veasey. “But I am really pleased with how they came out…They’re just simple, and very often the best things are simple.”
Veasey works from a purpose-built studio on his property that serves as his X-ray bunker. To contain the radiation from his machines, the building’s walls are built seven blocks thick, each block weighing about 50 lbs. in heavy concrete.
Inside, Veasey has three X-ray machines with varying degrees of radiation that he uses based on his subject’s density. His objects are laid on the lead floor or against a lead wall, with film underneath. Each image comes out the exact size of the object X-rayed, making Veasey’s other projects of massive tractors and airplanes quite challenging, and requiring the assembly of multiple exposures. Once the image is taken, Veasey processes the film, scans it into a computer and retouches it in Photoshop.
“An X-ray is an honest interpretation of how things are made. It shows things for what they are, and how well they’re made or not. If it’s a piece of crap, it shows you it’s a piece of crap. If it’s beautiful, it shows you it’s beautiful,” says Veasey. “I love the fact that very often the most everyday objects take on another level of importance. We are all so busy and so frantic that we don’t take the time to appreciate the stuff that surrounds us.”
By exposing what’s below the surface of his subjects, Veasey challenges the viewer to rethink society’s obsession with image, and find beauty in the mundane — even in a Band-Aid.
See more of Veasey’s work here.
Alexandra Sifferlin is a writer and producer for TIME Healthland.