Kirlian Photography: An artist searches for meat auras

January 15, 2010

images and text by Nate Larson
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Ten.

THE KIRLIAN PHOTOGRAPHIC PROCESS electrifies an object to produce a contact image on photographic film or paper. The photosensitized material records the multicolored emanations produced by the high voltage passing through the object. The Russian inventor Semyon Kirlian discovered and popularized the phenomenon in 1939, although it was the subject of earlier experiments by Nikola Tesla. The most famous Kirlian image is the glowing hand in the opening credits of the popular television show The X-Files. Musicians David Bowie and George Harrison have used the process in their album artwork.

Many fringe experimenters propose that the photographs give physical form to psychic energy and refer to them as auras or bio-fields. They believe that this process reveals the etheric body, an energy layer of the aura thought to permeate all living objects. The proponents point to the “phantom limb” phenomenon as evidence, in which the Kirlian photograph of a torn leaf reveals the whole leaf, a claim that I was unable to replicate. Believers will often use the image to make health care decisions, detect deceptions, or seek answers from the great beyond.

I built my Kirlian device in the summer of 2006, aided by the use of electrical diagrams and technical notes from the Internet. For the last several years I have been testing common processed and natural American foodstuffs, seeking insight into the food we choose to ingest. The selections from my research published here include olive loaf lunchmeat purchased at a big-box supermarket, chicken nuggets from a drive-through fast-food franchise, Spam processed meat from a tin, a strip of uncooked bacon, canned tuna, and the wishbone of a Thanksgiving turkey several days after the holiday. All images are presented as produced by the process without additional manipulation.


NATE LARSON is a Baltimore-based artist and a member of the faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art. His work with photographic media, artists’ books, and narrative video have been shown across the U.S. and internationally. See more at

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Ten.

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