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Monday, 12 June 2017

Chloe Jones and the Strange World of Neuron Mapping

The penultimate Documentary Photography contribution comes from Chloe Jones. Her project, C.A.R.E.N. looks at how virtual reality is used in rehabilitating people with spinal injuries by a remapping of neural networks through mirror neurons. 

Chloe's strory reminded me of this story on facial recognition by monkeys, and the ways in which basic algorithms are used in the brain to map faces. The images above show pictures shown to monkeys (on left) and the pictures recreated from their brainwaves (on right). The similarity is quite astonishing - and the way in which it is done is using a kind of mental algorithm which corresponds to those used in facial recognition. A case where the synthetic simplicity and directness of visual analysis created on computer models almost exactly matches the organic simplicity and directness of visual analysis in the brain. Simple, direct and obvious is best in other words, even in a complex example like this (where there are 25 mapping points).

The potential consequences of this are both potentially life changing in both amazing and terrifying ways.

Read more about this here

A similar kind of mapping is evident in the processes that CAREN uses in its rehabilitation process. What I find so fascinating is that you have an intuitive sense of what is going on in the story, and the images correspond to this idea of mirror neurons, yet at the same time it is such an abstract project. But as the monkey facial recognition experiment shows, the abstractions of algorithms and data so often have a very direct and indexical relationship with reality. That is what this project is about!


Motek Medical’s ‘Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment’ known as CAREN, evidences the positive impact of advanced virtual reality exposure therapy. The UK’s only accessible CAREN system is situated in Salford’s, Brain and Spinal Injury Centre. The immersive multi-sensory system allows sufferers of traumatic brain injuries, psychological and neurological disorders to experience an accelerated and powerful improvement in their rehabilitation, through the physical and cognitive interaction with virtual environments.

Part of this treatment relies upon how the CAREN manipulates a subset of motor neurons known as ‘mirror neurons’; nerve cells that fire automatically when you perform a task, but also when you observe the same task being performed by another individual. The underlying research and study into mirror neurons is used here to contextualize the mechanism of virtual reality exposure therapy and in this case, the success of the CAREN.

This series of work visually compares the sensory components of the system to that of the human body, with emphasis on how the software can be customized to each client’s requirement, repeatedly evoking the situation of trauma and with time, rewiring the lost neural paths in the brain. The process is therefore a journey from the virtual to the corporeal.

Contact Chloe here: chloedjonesphotography@gmail.com

See more work here

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You can see this and other documentary work in London opening 16th June at Seen Fifteen Gallery, Peckham. We'd love to see you there so come and say hello!

And if you do have any spare cash and want to be a patron of some truly great photographers, go to the Kickstarter Page here. And thank you so much everybody who has contributed and made sure we hit the target. It is so appreciated!

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