Landscapes with a Corpse

In this activity my students take as inspiration Izima Kaoru’s Landscapes with a Corpse 25-year photography project. Students are invited to imagine the circumstances of their own passing.

Note: no one is required to participate in this or any other class activity. They are always welcome to request an alternative activity.

Eliza simulates her death by drowning at sea by creating a photo of her body washed up on the shore of a beach in Long Beach, CA
Eliza Karpel

From the moment I heard about the landscape with a corpse project, I pictured a romantic death instead of tragic and gruesome one. While thinking of ideas, I thought of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Much like Izima Kaoru’s photos, the death of Ophelia has a somewhat romantic, aesthetic sense to it. In the play, some characters claim Ophelia slipped on a branch and fell into the water while others claim she took her own life. Either way, Shakespeare provides the image of her body peacefully floating in the water with her flowing dress and hair.

I really wanted to do something similar to the scene in Hamlet but felt it would be difficult to recreate. First of all, I have no idea where to find a pond or swamp in Long Beach. Even if I did, I did not want to get into the freezing water! Instead, I decided to do something different with the ocean. My boyfriend, Luke came along to take the photos of me. It worked out well because he also needed to take photos of me portraying different emotions for one of his film classes at Chapman. We joked that one of his emotions would just be “death” but ended up taking some nice ones for his project too. I chose my theoretical death to involve my body being washed up onto the beach after a shipwreck. While drowning itself is not romantic, and probably quite unpleasant, the death that I portrayed could be seen as aesthetically beautiful with the ocean background. We found some seashells at the shore and placed them in my hair and hand to show that my body had been floating in the ocean for some time before it washed onto the beach. To make it even better, the sky was gloomy and helped portray a symbol of death.

Death itself does not scare me that much. I am not afraid to die nor am I afraid of what happens after death. I think it is really the anticipation that kills me-no pun intended. Two years ago I got into a pretty bad car accident where my brakes went out and I crashed into the back of a city bus. A few seconds before it happened, I realized my brakes were not working whatsoever. To avoid swerving into oncoming traffic on the other side, I made an impulse decision to hit the bus in front of me. The weird thing about this experience was my sense of tranquility even though I knew I was about to crash. It’s almost creepy to think about how calm I was. I just accepted what was going to happen and didn’t really worry about getting hurt or even dying.

It really put death in perspective for me; I believe when I do die, the experience itself will be free of worry and fear. I like to think that it is actually a very fascinating experience. Both of my grandparents died of cancer within the past 4 years and my mom, who is extremely fascinated with death (even more so after her parents died) explained to me what both of them went through while they were passing. My mom said it was almost like they were met by loved ones and were even speaking to them as they were dying. My grandma had already closed her eyes but she was smiling and saying hello as if people were greeting her into the afterlife. I guess we will never really know what it is like until they day we die, but I like to think it won’t be so bad. Like I said, I am not afraid of dying. It’s just the anticipation and not knowing when and how I will go. Even more so, I have a lot of anxiety about losing loved ones. I was really close with my grandparents and I can not bear the idea of grieving over other loved ones like I did with them.

In the end, I really enjoyed doing this project. It made me think more about death and the afterlife. I think it’s really refreshing to have an activity that involves death since a lot of people are terrified of the subject and avoid it as much as they can. This can be really problematic in the future, especially when you experience the death of someone around you. We need to be able to come to terms and make peace with the concept. I strongly believe the subject of death is something that should be discussed more openly in our society-after all, it happens to everyone.

Eliza Karpel

Selenara imagining a death by gunshot - image with blood on forehead and leaning up against a low wall
Selena Lara

I grew up in Compton, which many like to refer to as “The Hood.” There’s a statistic that says that, given the neighborhood I was born in, by the age of 16 I would be involved in a gang. It also says that by the age of 18 I would either be incarcerated or dead due to gang violence. A lot of the kids I grew up with always talked about how their biggest fear was to not make it past 18. To end up shot up dead in a corner. I wanted to project just that.

The image of me dead, shot up in a corner, is a representation of what I could’ve been but wasn’t. Watching me create this image was difficult for my parents. They told me I was crazy for even thinking of death or anything related. It was also kind of hard on me because it’s the way many of my childhood friends ended up.

Selena Lara

Alex Miramontes' 3-year-old niece pretending to shoot him in the park with a water gun

I decided to base this art project on a recurring dream that I had when I was in middle school, till this day I occasionally have the same exact dream. My dream is similar to the book The Giver by Lois Lowry and the short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. My dream takes place in the far future in a dystopian society and our government has implemented many laws and devices to control the population. The government’s intentions were to create policies that would allow everyone to be equal, but total equality resulted in censorship and restraint. Basically, in my dream my job was to deliver historical books to government officials, but books were prohibited to the general public because the government was afraid of people gaining knowledge. However, I would often break the law and make photocopies of the books and distribute them to the general public. The government discovered that I’ve been breaking the law and they hired ninja assassins to kill me to prevent me from starting a revolution. What was weird about the ninjas was that they were genetically manipulated so they would be small, their size would allow them to be more mobile and less visible. These ninjas killed me when I least expected it, and they framed me to make it seem like I had committed suicide.

Alex Miramontes

Angela simulating her death by falling down the stairs after tripping on her nephew's toy scooter. She lies in a pool of theater blood and is wearing a pink robe
Angela Kight

At first, I had no idea of how I was going to “die,” but I knew I wanted it to look bloody and gory so I could have some fun with fake theatre blood. I am also a very clumsy person so I incorporated that fact into my “death.”

The timeline of my “death” begins when I wake up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water downstairs. I walk down the stairs and I almost reach the last steps when my foot slides on my little nephew’s scooter toy. As I slide off the scooter, I lose my balance and fall backwards. I end up hitting the back of my head on the stair steps and cracking my skull open. My little nephew wakes up after hearing me scream and goes to investigate. He sees me from the top of the stairs and feels guilty that I died by slipping on one of his toys.

The main idea of this story is that my little nephew should put his toys away because someone could seriously get hurt! He always leaves his toys scattered all around the house and everyone is constantly tripping over them and hurting themselves. My “death” is an exaggeration of that, but it is still somewhat realistic. I am also the clumsiest person to exist and I feel like I would die in some kind of freak accident like this (haha).

Angela Kight

Briana Garcia lying in the street, near a stop sign, at night, as though she'd been hit by a car
Briana Garcia

So, crazy story, this actually happened:

One morning around 7:15am I was walking to school (which is across the street from my house) and I was hit by a car at this exact intersection. How strange right? Within the 5 minutes that it took for me to get from my house to the school, I was hit by a car. What are the chances?

That morning I woke up and thought it was going to be just like any other. And then suddenly I was hit by the unexpected, literally. We go about our days and never consider that it could be our last. But who does? No one wants to think about that. Unfortunately for me, I do. That day left an emotional scar but it also made me realize that everything can be taken from you within seconds. I have learned to enjoy every day that i am given, appreciate the people around me, not to waste time being angry and to live my life in a way that makes me happy. I almost lost my life and it was scary, but it was life changing.

This activity wasn’t dark in my opinion. I think it was actually a great opportunity for people to realize what I did without actually having to go through it. My pictures are a little more dramatic than how it actually happened but I thought I’d have some fun with it. I was worried it would give me anxiety trying to relive that event but I’m stronger now and I’ve accepted it.

Briana Garcia

a woman floating, unconscious (simulated) in a pool and holding flowers
Adriana Maciel

My boyfriend of two years broke up with me about a month ago and it hurt me tremendously. He was my first true love and I couldn’t imagine my life without him because I thought he was the one. We had lived together and we had been through so much in those years we shared. The week after he broke up with me I felt like I was literally drowning with emotions and everything reminded me of him or memories we shared, etc. I had never felt a heartbreak like this and I didn’t think I would ever overcome the feelings and depression I was dealing with.

I feel like this is not a representation of what I was feeling when I was ‘drowning’ in my sorrows, but I feel like this represents how I am feeling now. I understand why it didn’t work out with Andrew and I got closure from him so I am feeling a lot better about the situation. I feel at peace. I did drown figuratively but now I am content with myself and I feel like I let that piece of me that was so attached and heartbroken drown but I kept myself as a person afloat.

Adriana Maciel

Gabriella stages her death by drowning after a rescuee knocks her unconscious
Gabriella Tecun

Because I have been swimming competitively since I was 7, and lifeguarding/teaching swim lessons since I was 16, I decided to die in the pool. I created a scene, with the help of two close friends, where I am trying to rescue someone who was drowning and in the process I drowned too. I recreated the scene with both friends. This first picture is a picture of my friend Rico, who helped me with the molding activity. His drowning was caused by the lack of ability to swim. I went in to help him when he got tired swimming half way across the deep end but he was resisting my help and elbowed me in the head. This caused me to knock out and we both drowned.

Gabriella Tecun

young person on the floor surrounded by makeup as if all the makeup had "done her in"
Maritess Anne Inieto

Beauty is pain, sometimes enough to kill you.

Maritess Anne Inieto

Jackie lying peacefully
Jackie Perez

For this week’s art experience I decided to do a depiction of a girl dealing with dementia who copes with her memory loss by writing notes to herself each day to remember what she must do. However, things take a turn when one of her notes, the one that reminds her to take her medication, washes away as she is washing the dishes which causes her to forget to take her meds before bed resulting in her death.

Jackie Perez

Jennifer performing "Death by High Heels" a simulation of her demise due to tripping in very high heels. Her body is laid out across stairs.
Jennifer Ostroff

Heels so high you can talk to God

I honestly was very excited about this project, because who doesn’t, from time to time, question their own mortality? While you’re in your car, do you ever stop to think that you might not finish your commute? I think it is a very human thing to consider your own death…and at this point in my life, the scenario I picked seemed pretty likely, if not overexaggerated.

I don’t consider myself to be vain, but I do like to accessorize from time to time, and as much as I hate the cliche’, I really do love shoes, stillettos to be exact – I own quite a few pairs (I’d have even more If my dog hadn’t chewed the hell out of a few pairs). Why? They looked good on me when I tried them on. Do I get a lot of use out of them? Not really – the higher the heel, the more I walk like a newborn giraffe, which is where I got my idea for this project – clumsy girl putting her aesthetic first, and her ability to balance second.

It was simple. I put together an outfit, brushing off the highest pair of heels I owned; did my makeup; and grabbed my little brother to be my makeshift photographer, and we set up the scene. With his help, we positioned my limbs, and took a few shots. My friend Lauren even sent me some text messages to add to the scene, which I took a screenshot of since the camera didn’t pick up the image. Once done, I transferred the images to my laptop and gave them some touchups in Adobe Photoshop.

Jennifer Ostroff

Michael lying on a large marble floor pretending to be the victim of a psycho clown
Michael Shenouda

I first thought about The Walking Dead, my favorite TV show, and wanted to do something regarding getting eaten by zombies. Once I got to my car, I noticed I still had my clown mask I bought from Halloween and knew I was going to do something regarding getting killed by a clown. That idea came to my mind once I saw the mask and remembered how terrified people were of clowns a couple months back, since they were ambushing random individuals. After finding the clown mask, I had to find a weapon for the clown to kill me with. While looking, I found a club that I got from Kenya and decided to choose that.

The scene is illustrating the clown attacking me after I opened the door to go to my car. The clown was waiting in the front and ambushed me. After that, he hit me in the head with his club, forcing me to drop my keys. After I tried to get up again, he hit me repeatedly in the head till I died and turned my body around to take a picture, like he usually does with the rest of his victims. How the idea came about is my friend in the picture, the clown, and I were going to another friends house. I told him about the project before we left and that I needed his help for a short scene. My little sister, who took the pictures, was laughing the whole time during the process which made it hard for me to keep a straight face.

Michael Shenouda

Jennifer in a LBD in a bathtub staging a photo of her death
Jennifer Drees

Pushed past the (legal) limit

I was honestly super excited when I received this assignment. I told my mom about it and she couldn’t believe this was a school assignment and said it sounded extremely macabre, but I have a morbid curiosity and am fascinated with all things gore and horror. So when I read that I had to create a scene in which I was dead, my mind jumped to something bloody and gory. Almost immediately, I had the image of a bloody bathtub in my mind. It was really fun for me to create this scene. I had maybe a little too much fun trying to get my fake blood to look as realistic as possible and thinking of the small background details, such as the bloody wine bottle, that would complete the image.

Jennifer Drees

Rachel Palmer performing death by drowning on the jetty in Newport Beach, CA
Rachel Palmer

This week was definitely an introspective one for many reasons. I was feeling stressed out about all that I had to do for my classes and I was not really in the best state of mind. Maybe not the best time to start planning my own death. With that said though, this assignment actually turned out to be pretty fun.

As you can see, I chose to go to the beach for my death. We decided to do it at Newport Beach and honestly it would be a pretty nice place to go in my opinion. My boyfriend took the pictures and he is actually a photographer so he did not mind at all and was actually excited about this assignment. I am usually pretty awkward with posing for pictures, but this felt okay because it was not supposed to look “natural”. Originally I wanted to actually go into the water or at least have my hair wet to make it look like I had drowned, but the weather really did not call for that and I did not want to freeze to death in the pursuit of my fake death photo.

Rachel Palmer

Shannon on the ground at the base of the CSULB Microbiology building
Shannon Satterfield

As a biology major, my first thought when tasked with this assignment was dying in the lab, but I was too shy to lay down and pretend to be dead while everyone else was working. I decided to do suicide by jumping off a building at school driven by stress. I think this assignment would have been more fitting for the week leading up to finals week.

I used the microbiology building because it’s related to my major, is one of the buildings I walk by daily, and is pretty quiet most of the time which made it easier to take the photos. The first photo was taken from the 4th level while the second photo was taken from the ground floor or 1st level. I made the mistake of getting up after the first photo was taken so there is a small discrepancy in the way my hair is laid on the floor.

I guess the lesson of this post is that the mind has a tendency to stress over anything and everything so you have to make an effort not to be a victim of unnecessary stress and learn to get priorities straight and balance every aspect of your life so that stress doesn’t creep up on you and take over your life.

Shannon Satterfield

Shannon lying on the ground at the base of the CSULB Microbiology building
Shannon Satterfield
A body floating in a large swimming pool
Bailey McCann

This is the pool in my apartment complex. I have always been drawn to the aesthetic of the pool in contrast with the building and the sky…

I chose to call this Dead Pool, not because I was dead in the pool, but because the pool itself is dead. I have been living in this complex for about six months and I have never seen a person other than myself and my friends in this pool. I almost feel sorry because it is such a beautiful under appreciated pool so I’m glad I could give it some recognition.

However, creating this beautiful and dark scene came at a cost. The pool was freakin’ FREEZING! I enlisted my boyfriend as my photographer and we had to formulate a game plan ahead of time because we knew I would not want to be in the water for long. I told him that as soon as he got good shots form the second floor, to run to the first floor. In the rush, he managed to get mostly blurry picture or pictures of me coming up for my breaths of air! Also, if I don’t look too convincing as a dead person, it’s because my whole body was tensing due to the freezing temp of the water. It was so cold that my skin actually felt like it was burning. It’s okay though, because it was worth it and I was well aware of what I was getting myself into.

Bailey McCann

simulating a celebrity overdose in a bathtub filled with dingy colored water
Emily Tomasello

Aside from the fact that I find over-glamorized celebrity overdoses interesting, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have any sort of personal connection with drug-related topics. I have not met anybody or had anybody in my life who had a drug problem to the point where they overdosed, so I guess I’m pretty fortunate in that aspect. I honestly could not imagine how that must feel for people who have had to go through that with a loved one. However, this was definitely an interesting experience getting to step out of my comfort zone in order to get this story across. I think art is one of the best ways to tell controversial stories like this one and portray a certain message. Hopefully, I did that here.

Emily Tomasello

simulated "death by heartbreak" - a body on the ground surrounded by rose petals
Jamie Van

When I imagine my departure, I consider heartbreak a possibility because I don’t think anything else hurts more–or kills more–than a broken heart. On creating this scene, I thought about incorporating a sense of Gothic style and romance. I can easily say that I am a hopeless romantic so I thought that creating a scene with a big mess would be fun to do because love is messy. Sometimes, we push away the ones we love. We come to become afraid of being vulnerable with another person and for someone to see the deep and dark parts of our soul because we are afraid of loving someone too strongly and then becoming disappointed. In romance, falling in love is a thrilling ride but falling out of love is the most heartbreaking and blue. Love is not always joyful but the meaningful moments and lessons we learn from being moved are something that I believe deserve a spotlight of their own.

When I thought of a tragic love scene, the first thing that popped into my mind was dead roses. With that in mind, I headed over to the nearest florist and asked for a dozen dead roses because why not? I’m sure the florist was surprised about my request but, in the end, I got the flowers that I wanted and then headed home to start working on the project. I ripped up a bunch of these roses and just scattered them all over the set. Just as love isn’t neat, I did not want a neat set. I also laid a fallen chair out on the floor because love has a way of knocking you down just as the chair had been knocked down. I paired the whole scene with a dark outfit to illustrate the dark demise of a broken heart when one may fall out of love, which is how I could imagine my departure and tragic end.

Jamie Van

simulated death scene with a body in a bathtub of red water
Lizzy Stiller

I have never had so much fun doing an art project. Personally, I’ve always been interested in dark subjects such as death and what not. So when I found out about this project, I knew I had to go big. I had a pint of extra fake blood from last Halloween and decided the bathtub was going to be the best clean up but also a very visual way of dying. I filled the bathtub and then mixed the fake blood in to become very deep red. Then I splattered it all over the bathroom walls which ended up being a perfect contrast on the white tiles. I entered the bathtub and poured more blood on my arms and chest to be even more gory. On the floor next to me I actually placed a little note to allude to a possible suicide.

Personally in my head I see my death as I was murdered but the culprit set it up as a suicide. Doing this project really made me open my mind to the possible ideas and appreciate the color contrast. I loved the look on the blood splatter on my tiles. The colors of the innocent white and the death red really spoke to me. It made me understand and appreciate just how powerful and meaningful colors are. I am actually quite terrified of death but this project made me think of an artistic interpretation of it. It is not something to be afraid of, but something to eventually embrace.

Lizzy Stiller

lying on train tracks
Esmeray Lopez

This project really hit me inside. It made me think about appreciating ourselves more. It’s hard to look at a picture of yourself in a position like this where it could bring so much pain to the people you love.

Esmeray Lopez

Layla Hadidi lying on the floor in a vast sea of feathers
Layla Hadidi

This scene was exciting for me because I’ve never experienced this kind of art, to imagine yourself dead. This makes the artist/photographer really come up with different scenarios of themselves in a state that we all avoid thinking about – death.

My perfect death probably would have included drowning in a pool of Nutella, but I was too limited on resources to accomplish this.

Instead, I thought more of what scares me, how wouldn’t I like to die. I guess I was kind of still thinking about Marina Abramović and how she would do things that made her uncomfortable — this is what life was really about. I live alone so occasionally I consider what would happen if I died in my apartment and no one knew I was dead.

I appreciated how Kaoru creates a simple background of some sort to make the corpse ‘pop’ or stand out in the photo. I ended up buying a couple of feather pillows and emptying them out of my living room floor, covering every inch. I then proceeded to wear my favorite knee high black boots and a fur vest to create a celebrity/cinema feel.

I took the photos on a timer or selfie; I know that if I had someone helping me I would have achieved more unique angles but it was still a success, except, for the mess I made in my living room. It has taken me three days to clean up all the feathers in my apartment.

Layla Hadidi