Ray Nelson


All of the photographs and text are copyrighted

I use the microscope as a wonderfully subtle and revealing camera lens. I am not a scientist of any description. I was attracted to photomicrography for reasons that were essentially aesthetic. The microscope gives me access to a world of natural objects that possess the virtues of abstraction--line, color, and mass, symmetry and asymmetry, order and rhythm and radiance--
without insisting upon the naturalistic contexts and interpretations that can inhibit other kinds of photography. Like a non-representational canvas, the photomicrograph can yeild an abundance of images that remind an observer of extravagant architecture, mad landscapes, mandalas, mythological creatures, or whatever else may be projected by a perception in search of mooring and reference. But at last, photomicrographs, however genuinely mysterious and suggestive, are simply compositions of light, abstracted from natural phenomena that are hidden from all but the most persistent eye, that must be coaxed into form with all the care and ingenuity one would bring to the photography of any other phenomenon in nature. It is that they are light and fact, uncompromised by interpretation, that is their peculiar virtue.

The microphotographs here were made through an American Optical One Hundred, an excellent, but basic research instrument that is now distributed and serviced by Leica. It gives me magnifications of 40 to 1000x. Such instruments are not cheap, but they can be purchased used, often refurbished by local independent servicepeople, at reasonable prices. If you are considering used microscopes, you must insist that its optics are perfect, that it is clean internally, and that it will allow you to get appropriate light to your subject.

The camera for these photographs was a Nixon FA.

I have selected images in part to illustrate the different kinds of illumination I have found it possible to use on my austere scope. Many specialized instruments are equipped with sophisticated systems for polarization, phase interference, fluorescence, or other forms of variant lighting. Mine has none of that. The devices I have used to direct or enrich light are all simple and all homemade.

Methods of illumination include:

The photomicrographs assembled here are chiefly of crystal structures and botanical specimens. The only zoological specimen is the protozoan ceriatum. The magnification factor accompanying the identification of the subject is the multiple of the life size of the specimen as it appears on a 35mm negative. What you see on your screen will be, of course, much more highly magnified.

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