The Topography of Tears
In a moment of relentless tears one day I suddenly wondered what tears actually look like. Would grief look the same as joy? I saved one to examine through my microscope, a vintage optical Zeiss with microscopy camera.
The image of that tear evoked a sense of place, like an aerial view of emotional terrain. Compelled, I began saving whatever tears I shed onto glass slides. Some were compressed between slide and cover-slip, others air-dried. I was able to investigate a wide range of my own and others’ emotions, from depletion to elation, laughter to remorse, onions.
There are many variables that influence the different ways the tear images appear, including volume of the tear fluid, evaporation or compression, biological variations, microscope and camera settings, and how I process and print it the photo. Early on I realized that arriving at conclusions about these images was not my purpose; clearly for me the journey was the destination.
Among the tear images, many are like momentary landscapes of an ephemeral atlas. I contemplate these shots of a placeless place that can neither be fully explained nor revisited yet is somewhere I once passed through and remember.
Roaming microscopic vistas, I’m struck by the visual similarities between the vast and tiny worlds within worlds that exist all around and inside of us. The patterning of nature seems so consistent regardless of scale. Patterns of erosion etched into earth over millions of years can resemble the branched or crystalline forms in evaporated tears that took a second to occur.
Tears are the medium of our most primal language, and in deep moments, the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into an awareness that words don’t reach. Tears spontaneously release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis, intractable resistance short-circuited. I think of a tear as a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.