Life after death, for most people, is a faithful belief in a spiritual hereafter, a transfer to a higher, non-bodily consciousness. For cryonics enthusiasts, however, a “second life” – or more accurately, a resuscitated life with a little help from freezer storage – here on Earth is the goal.
The Prospect of Immortality is a six-year study by UK photographer Murray Ballard, who has traveled the world pulling back the curtain on the amateurs, optimists, businesses and apparatuses of cryonics. “It’s not a large industry,” says Ballard, who visited the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Phoenix, Arizona; the Cryonics Institute in Detroit, Michigan; KrioRus in Moscow, Russia; and Suspended Animation Inc in Boytan Beach, Florida; among others.
Cryonics is the preservation of deceased humans in liquid nitrogen at temperatures just shy of its boiling point of −196°C/77 Kelvin. Cryopreservation of humans is not reversible with current science, but cryonicists hypothesize that people who are considered dead by current medical definitions may someday be recovered by using advanced future technologies.
Stats are hard to come by, but it is estimated there are about 2,000 people signed up for cryonics and approximately 250 people currently cryopreserved. Over 100 pets have also been placed in vats of liquid nitrogen with the hopes of a future recovery.
Ballard’s project began in 2006 after he read a news article, “Freezer Failure Ends Couple’s Hopes of Life After Death,” about a French couple who had been kept in industrial freezers beneath their chateau in the Loire valley. He phoned up a small group of UK cryonicists and attended their meetings and training sessions. Later, funding from an arts organization paid for two trips to the U.S.
A chance meeting with one of the founders of KrioRus, a Russian cryonics organization, at a UK conference set up a memorable week-long trip to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Vorenzh. There he photographed the two resting places of the first Russian cryonics neuro-patient.
“I photographed her grave in a cemetery just outside St. Petersburg and the cryostat containing her head at the facility in Moscow.”
Heads take up less storage space than whole bodies. They’re cheaper to store.