01/09/2014 03:55 EST | Updated 03/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Photographer shoots the living with the dead

Wayne Martin Belger is a photographer based in Tucson, Ariz., who believes we have allowed ourselves to become detached from one of the starkest facts of being human: death.

"You have birth, you have life and you have death. But birth and death [have] become industries — they're thing's we can't handle," he says.

Being an artist, Belger believes that art can help us retrieve our ability to cope with death, and that the body we leave behind after we die can be turned into art, which in turn can connect the living to the dead.

That's why he's created a series of pinhole cameras, each one built using human remains in or on the camera itself.

One of them is called the "Third Eye Camera" and is made from an 150-year-old skull that he retrieved from a doctor's anatomy kit: "I wanted to take this beautiful object of decay and photograph the beauty of decay."

Another camera is called "The Heart," and its design features a fetus's heart. It came from a college that had gone bankrupt.

According to Belger, "It ended up in somebody's garage for 50 years and it just felt like I should keep it. It needed to be honoured."

The camera also allows Belger to connect himself to the dead: when he was in his 20s, he discovered that he had a twin brother who died at birth.

With that camera he photographs pregnant women right before they give birth. He has now photographed close to 100 women with the camera.

"I've yet to have a negative response," he says.

Whenever Belger exhibits his work, he finds people are surprised at being confronted with human remains: "They'll go up and touch the skull and say, 'Wow, I've never seen a human skull before'. Or they'll say 'I've never touched one, and it's like you actually own a human skull'

"It's so incredibly out there, that it gives people an opportunity to connect."

You can hear more about Wayne Belger's work on CBC Radio's Ideas.

Mobile watchers can view the short video here, it contains graphic content. 

He's part of a radio documentary called "Ideas from the trenches – the living dead," based on the research of PhD student Myriam Nafte, who studies the circulation and use of human remains in Western society.