In 2011 while on assignment for Scientific American magazine, photographer Adam Voorhes discovered over 700 glass jars of damaged, deformed or rare brains preserved in formaldehyde that had been essentially forgotten in the bowels of the University of Texas Mental Hospital in the 1960s. He unearthed a storage closet containing hundreds of the specimens and developed an obsession with studying them.

Over the course of a year, Voorhes diligently photographed each brain in sharp, high resolution, illuminating the beautiful oddities of textures, colors and various deformities. No stranger to transforming an inanimate object into a thing of wonder, Voorhes approached each subject with a clinical precision, clean and sharp, giving great attention to the little details that make his subjects so unique.

Joined by his friend and journalist Alex Hannaford, the two began researching and deciphering the medical history of each brain, turning Hannaford’s words and  Voorhes’s photos into what would become the book “Malformed: The Forgotten Brains of the Texas Mental Hospital,” which will be published in November through PowerHouse books.

During their research they discovered a network of neuroscientists who explained how MRI technology and DNA scanning on such speciments could prove monumental in unlocking key information for brain research. And what of all those preserved brains now? The University of Texas at Austin is developing plans to begin MRI scans.

All photos by Adam Voorhes


Malformed: The Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital will be released by powerHouse books November 2014