The Topography of Tears
The Topography of Tears is a study of tears photographed through an optical microscope. I started this project in 2008, during a period of many tears, life changes, and a sudden curiosity one day as I wondered, what do tears actually look like? Do joyful tears look any different than sad tears? I set out to explore them up close, using tools of science to make art and to contemplate 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.
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 composition 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. A transitory moment can be personally revolutionary, a turning point. It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.
These images of tears are reflections of their chemical composition; yet what is it that accounts for all their visual differences? The questions that initiated my project require a level of scientific research that will be vast and very complicated to achieve in order to one day be answerable. While my early questions remain questions, they are what set me forth on an intriguing quest. The question launches the journey. I'm an artist not a scientist, and rather than expecting to arrive at concrete conclusions, my exploration of tears has led me deeper into the intangible poetry of life.
I'm so grateful to Bellevue Literary Press that there is now a book which presents a substantial and cohesive sampling of these tears.
© Rose-Lynn Fisher 2013-2018
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