When you get your period, and you’re doubled over with cramps and generally hating life, do you ever look at the toilet before flushing your ‘pon and think about how beautiful your menstrual cycle is? No? Well, Denver-based artist Jen Lewis does, and she’s using period blood as her medium and subject as part of an upcoming exhibition to be displayed at a reproductive health conference in June.

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Reports the Huffington Post:

“The catalyst for the creation of ‘Beauty in Blood’ was actually when I switched from tampons and pads to a menstrual cup at the recommendation of my physician,” Lewis explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “The cup is a much more ‘hands-on’ approach to menstruation management so my relationship with my body began changing immediately following the first use. One day, when I had some blood on my fingers after emptying my cup, I started to wonder about why society framed up menstruation as something disgusting.”

Not disgusted, she forged forward—and enlisted her husband’s help in staging photoshoots literally using her period as the subject.

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“I wanted to do that with menstrual blood,” Lewis recounted. “Get real close and look at something in a whole new way.” The images that followed resemble everything from jellyfish to cotton candy, reminiscent of photographer Alberto Seveso’s ink portraits.

When the project began, they worked while Lewis was actively menstruating. “Those evenings after work, I would remove my cup, leave the bathroom and Rob would set up the lights and camera. I would pour the blood into an empty toilet bowl to emphasize the abstract elements I saw at play: the color contrast of bright red against stark white porcelain, the organic way the blood moved in the water, how different the blood was from day-to-day. Every pour looked different.”

All squeamishness aside—which Lewis reminds us is the goal of “Beauty in Blood,” to remove the taboo of a period, that great equalizer, as an ugly thing—her photographs are quite beautiful, and if you hadn’t known that she used menstrual blood as a medium, you might guess it was something else completely.

Image via screengrab/United Artists