Brain Study no. 500, Teaching Brain Cross Sections on Gauze

I walked into a storage closet filled with approximately one-hundred human brains, none of them normal, taken from patients at the Texas State Mental Hospital. The brains sat in large jars of fluid, each labeled with a date of death or autopsy, a brief description in Latin, and a case number. These case numbers corresponded to microfilm held by the State Hospital detailing medical histories. But somehow, regardless of how amazing and fascinating this collection was, it had been largely untouched, and unstudied for nearly three decades.

Driving back to my studio with a brain snugly belted into the passenger seat, I quickly became obsessed with the idea of photographing the collection, preserving the already decaying brains, and corresponding the images to their medical histories.—Adam Voorhes

Two years ago Scientific American magazine sent Austin-based photographer Adam Voorhes to the University of Texas to borrow a human brain to photograph. That’s when he stumbled upon a cerebral mecca, a moment Voorhes describes above. Working with features journalist Alex Hannaford, the two have spent the last year investigating these fascinating specimens.

The collection dates back to the 1950s but the intent to study and display it was halted due to a lack of funding, and unfortunately the microfilm histories Voorhes mentions above were destroyed long ago. Luckily, the University of Texas has shown some new interest and is planning to make MRI scans of the brains, which will help piece together the collection’s history. Voorhes’ project seems particularly relevant as President Obama just announced a $100 million brain research initiative to develop new methods and technologies for understanding the human brain.

Brain Study no. 9, Down's Syndrome, 1983
Brain Study no. 331, Severe Developmental Anomaly of the Brain, 1978
Brain Study no. 318, Agyira Lobi. Fron. Lat. Utr., 1970
Brain Study no. 255, Hydrocephalus Internus et Exturnus, 1975
Brain Study no. 406, Teaching Brain Cross Section Dyed

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