Interview: Cosmic Surgery


A few years ago, Alma Haser and Emily Macaulay met at a Miniclick event. Through a mutual love of paper engineering, a unique collaboration began around Alma’s Cosmic Surgery portraits. Now an entire world has been imagined, and the Cosmic Surgery team are looking for help to fund a second edition of the book on Kickstarter. We spoke to Emily about the world they’ve created, the nature of collaborating and what to expect from the new book…


Cosmic Surgery is set in a fictional, not too distant future where intelligent materials are about to transform the world of traditional cosmetic surgery. These intelligent materials, or YourMat® technology in the world of Cosmic Surgery, are implanted on to your face and connect directly to your brain, making your face changeable and adaptable depending on your mood. Alma’s portraits document the results.

Over the last few months we have spent many hours dreaming about what this world looks like. We found this great quote by Charlie Brooker describing his TV series Black Mirror…

“They’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”

I think we’ve always liked the idea that the tone of our book is from a similar dystopian vantage point of the future. We are not predicting that the future of cosmetic surgery will be this extreme, but it imagines one peculiar version of events when you combine new technologies with a world obsessed with appearance.


MC: How did the collaboration come about?

We first started talking about this project years ago, in fact I think me and Alma first met at a Miniclick event that she spoke at. Cosmic Surgery was already an established project at that point with most of the original origami portraits complete. Alma was already thinking of the portraits as pop ups and I have a passion for taking on complicated paper based projects that keep me awake at night. That is when we first started to collaborate and when the first edition was born.

We’ve also had the pleasure of collaborating with Piers Bizony, another vital member of the Cosmic Surgery team. Piers added the narrative that we have stuck with with ever since the release of the first book. More recently we have also got to work with Josh Emerson who created our Cosmic Facelift website.


(Josh’s website for Cosmic Surgery includes a facelift app that allows you to create your own YourMat® portrait. Here, Emma Bowkett gets her transformation)

You’re all from different disciplines, has it been the case that you’ve worked separately on your own fields, or has there been much cross over?

I think one of the great things about the photographer / designer relationship is that we both know what our strengths are, we can both do what we do best with complete trust in the work the other person is doing. That being said I feel as if this project has encouraged massive cross overs between the work me, Alma and Piers do.

At times the book format had determined the series of photographs and how the story is told and at points it has been the other way round with the photographs and story determining the structure of the book and the design. It has been so enjoyable getting lost in the Cosmic Surgery world from an early point in the construction of the narrative. It has allowed us all to suggest which direction we imagine this project to go in.


(A spread from the second edition of the Cosmic Surgery book)

How are the images created?

The Cosmic Surgery portraits start with Alma photographing a sitter. Their faces are then printed, often multiple times, and folded into intricate origami structures. These structures are then placed over the original portrait and the combined assembly is re-photographed. Creating the beautiful, if slightly unsettling faces of Cosmic Surgery.

The first edition book contained pop-ups, which was great fun but must have been a lot of work. How much time was spent researching this method and producing them by hand?

By the time I joined the Cosmic Surgery team Alma had already got a good idea of the pop ups she wanted to use, she had spent months experimenting with how different pop ups worked in relation to her portraits. At our initial meeting she handed me a file full of miniature pop ups and paper mechanics, we then had to decide which ones could be added to the first edition.


(One of the pop-ups from the first edition)

The first edition was a very limited run of 10 books but they were massively complicated to make. There were so many different types of pop ups, different ways they had to be attached to the page. The most complicated part was turning a number of individual pieces into a book. That first run took over our lives, any time scales we’d originally predicted went out of the window, the books took so much longer to produce than expected. I love that anyone who has one of those first books has something completely hand made, and owns a little part of a project that consumed mine and Alma’s lives for a brief period in time, I’ll never forget those books.


(One of the pop-ups from the first edition)

Tell us a bit about the new book and what that brings to the work?

We had decided on making a second edition part way through making the first. Because of the hand made nature of the first books they worked out to be very expensive to produce. We always wanted to create something more accessible to a wider audience. Alma’s portraits are so tactile, they make you want to touch them and view them from different angles. The pop ups in the original book and the two included in this second edition allow you to get that perspective. We’ve always felt as if a pop up book is the natural progression for this project.

Cosmic Surgery needs your support on Kickstarter!

See more about the project, and get your own Cosmic Surgery facelift.

Finally, check out more of Alma and Emily’s work.

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