The topography of tears

The Topography of Tears is a study of 100 tears photographed through a standard light microscope. The project began in a period of personal change, loss, and copious tears. One day I wondered if my tears of grief would look any different from my tears of happiness – and I set out to explore them up close, using tools of science to make art and to ponder personal and aesthetic questions. Years later, this series comprises a wide range of my own and others’ tears, from elation to onions, as well as sorrow, frustration, rejection, resolution, laughing, yawning, birth and rebirth, and many more, each a tiny history. The random compositions I find in magnified tears often evoke a sense of place, like aerial views of emotional terrain. Although the empirical nature of tears is a chemistry of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears is a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series is like an ephemeral atlas. Roaming microscopic vistas, I marvel at the visual similarities between micro and macro realms, how the patterning of nature seems so consistent, regardless of scale. Patterns of erosion etched into earth over millions of years may look quite similar to the branched crystalline patterns of an evaporated tear that took less than a minute to occur. Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as a rite of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Wordless and spontaneous, they release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis: shedding tears, shedding old skin. It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.

Tears 1

Tears 2

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