In the Lab
A distressed family pleads with the coroners, looking for some sort of comfort. But the professionals who deal with the chaos, tears, whispers, pain, and coldness that comes with death have no words for those who observe their family member’s essence ceasing to exist.
A cold slab holds the shriveled stiff body. The one charged with cracking the once human open and discovering what is inside observes his subject while holding a scalpel. It’s a routine, a process he has repeated almost every day for the past couple decades.
Cotton plugs are stuffed into the cavities to avoid the bodily fluids from leaking out. The body is manipulated so the doctors can work without the rigidity being an issue. This massage will be the body’s last caress, its final human contact. Oils and lotions help improve the appearance of the grey papery skin. The next step is to empty the body from the insides or whatever that can lead to faster decomposition. A perfectly precise incision in the right artery fills a bucket with the blood of the one who has passed.
Then a strong cut in the middle of the torso. The crack that comes with the stiffness fills the room, and suddenly, the sound of ribs breaking in two echoes in the mind of the forensic surgeon who has been performing autopsies for too long. The gas seeps out slowly; the body rests, and the floor is suddenly the color of the most vivid red that will be soon hosed off and then disappeared with formaldehyde.
In the Crime Scene
The blood runs down the pavement, braising hot because the sun is not letting the 100 degree heat go. A beautiful day like this reminds us how fleeting life is. The forensic team walks towards the body; they carefully pick it up, and place it in the black bag. They then get it in the van conditioned to keep its temperature stable until it reaches its examination room.
As he takes the images, the photographer reflects on how the cruelest stories seem to be the ones belonging to those whose life was cut short by murder or accident. It saddens him in a strange way to be this connected to someone he will never know. It seems that in a place like this, empathy proves to be more of a curse than anything else.
The Last Goodbye
Providing family members the illusion of getting one more chance to say goodbye to their lost one has the body looking almost presentable through the use of all the right chemicals to give the appearance of life. Then it won’t be long before the body turns into ashes. The empty body will cease to be.
The photographer is unafraid of death. Not believing in an afterlife makes it easier. He can go to sleep knowing that one day his life will also be over, as everyone else’s. He’s learned to enjoy each of life’s moments, so that when the time comes, even the unexpected accident or premature death will be no excuse for regrets in his last breath.
His work makes him understand how brief life is. If anything, it makes him value life’s little treasures more.
(End of Fiction)
Photographer Patrik Budenz knows the raw side of death all too well. When he asked for permission to enter the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences of Berlin in 2007 to begin his project, entry was denied to him. But later on, because of his insistence, he was able to get in contact with the head of the institute, who invited him into the autopsy rooms, labs, and even crime scenes.
He began with the series Search for Evidence and his book Post Mortem, the latter which is a commentary on the process a body will undergo after death. Without any sort of identification, the photographer only witnesses small glimpses of the life of the one lying on the slab, such as age and cause of death.
You can learn more about the photographer’s work on his page, Patrick Budenz.
Translated by María Suárez