Observed Microscopically—Microphotomicrographs


Observed Microscopically began the summer of twenty fourteen with Microphotomicrographs, and has become the moniker for all my artwork, microscopic or not. Simply put, microphotomicrographs are 35mm slides under a microscope. The name comes from the combination of two words: Microphotographs, which are photos on a microscopic scale (microfilm), and photomicrographs which are photos taken through a microscope.

Making the rounds at one of our local art supply shops, I came across a medical binder full of MRI and x-ray slides. It was a bit tedious to look through, but it went right into my purchase pile. Next to the binder was a bin of thousands of miscellaneous slides, and looking through it seemed like an impossible task. After holding a few up to the light, I settled on adding just one of those to my purchases that day. Little did I know, that one photograph would become the catalyst for this project and exactly what I needed to begin Observed Microscopically.

After an ill attempt with my phone flashlight, I tried my microscope’s light source (a childhood curiosity now used as decoration) to view the slides. It illuminated them perfectly, and the next step was obvious. I viewed the single extra slide with my microscope, and landed on a beautiful composition—a woman holding a child’s hand. You can just make out that she’s wearing a watch, but the photo is from such a distance that it’s distorted.

The grainy texture of the images is something fairly consistent when viewing the slides under the microscope. Strangely however, they look comparably different with each viewing. There’s shifting dust, the angle of the camera on the objective, the focus of the microscope, and the variance in light. Additionally, 35mm slides deteriorate over time. While film quality is a factor, exposure to excess light, heat, or moisture can quicken the pace of degradation.

Since the inception of this project, the slides I choose are purposeful. They are filled with background noise that might not have been intended or even noticed by the the photographer at the time. Blurs and mistakes in the images, and defects in the film often have the best results. While I do take an initial look at the slides, I don’t view them on a projector. This leaves the full image a mystery, and I have a fresh take when I look under the microscope. By doing this, I’m hoping to capture a new composition—creating something unique apart from the original context.

Because of this, I choose not to share the full original image. While I am dependent on the photographs for these compositions, the images that result are independent of them. I also don’t offer an explanation of the microphotomicrograph aside from the category, leaving you to decide what to take away. Of course, it’s important to note that most of the photographic slides are not of my own taking. As I get these slides from a number of places (antique stores, thrift shops, and online), I’m not purchasing slides from their creator. They’ve exchanged hands, gotten separated from their original collections, and become orphan photographs. My thanks goes to the original and unintentionally anonymous photographer, without whom I would not have the content on which I built this photo project.