feature: a crystalline world (the microphotography of bernd walz)

"the tree" (c) bernd walz From "A Crystalline World,", for which I make microphotos of crystalline structures formed when dilute solutions of common laboratory chemicals dry down. I love the often minimalistic clear and unusual structures formed. This image is from a crystalline crust of taurin (2-aminoethanesulfonic acid). However, the chemical nature of the structures is not important ... the structures themselves count, and sometimes they create crystalline landscapes as in this case.

“the tree” (c) bernd walz

Simple forms, just lines, just a few delicate structures or textures, little or no colors, perhaps slight associations to the figurative real world, empty areas … what are the minimal requirements in an image in order to catch the attention of the viewer, to induce the viewer to leave his external world in favour of listening to the inner world of the self; to slow down; to calm down and to enjoy the aesthetics of simplicity? These are key aspects that I study in my micro-photographic project “A Crystalline World”.

A Little History: Microphotography is a form of photography in which the camera is attached to a microscope, that very microscope making detectable a world that is normally invisible to the human eye. Early microscopists in the 18th and 19th century used to document their observations in drawings. The first documented attempt to attach a camera to a microscope likley dates back to 1848, when the pharmacist F. Meyer (Frankfurt, Germany) attached a simple camera to his microscope. About 50 years later, all designated manufacturers of microscopes offered commercial microphotographic equipment. Since then, microphotography has become, in practice and principle, primarily a method for the scientific documentation of microscopic structures. However, a number of artists have been inspired by the beauty and curiosity of the microcosm. Prominent examples are the surrealists Max Ernst or Wassily Kandinsky, who integrated microscopic creatures and/or structures (biomorphs) into some of their paintings (click here for an example of a painting by Max Ernst).

"Plisse" (c) Bernd Walz

“Plisse” (c) Bernd Walz

Capturing the Images: Shooting the image itself is simply a matter of pressing a button. The real effort and time of this project is first finding a suitable substance that produces crystalline structures that meet the expectations for the first step in the overall process which then includes scanning, under the microscope, the preparations, which are square centimeters in extension, just to find a location that is square micrometers in extension and contains the structural configurations that my be suitable for an image (that sometimes has been formed already more or less in my mind). The final image is then created and processed in Photoshop.

A Few Words about Equipment: My department at the university has excellent (and expensive) research microscopes available, equipped with optics for all available light microscopic techniques. However, I prefer to work on this project in my spare time at home with my old Leitz microscope stand from the 1960s. This microscope is just suitable for brightfield, darkfield and polarization microscopy. I adapted my Canon 5DMkII to the phototube. Its live view makes focusing easy. Most images are shot at magnifications of 40 to 400 times. So, in the end, there is nothing special with the equipment. Its absolutely not fancy, and probably not more expensive than these 500 mm tele-lenses used by many outdoor photographers.

"Floral" (c) Bernd Walz

“Floral” (c) Bernd Walz

My Project: I made my first photomicrographs at the age of 14, when I put a simple box camera with 6×9 cm roll film behind the eyepiece of my microscope. Later, as a scientist and professor in biology, I made thousands of photomicrographs– scientific documents so dry that dust blows from the butt. Nevertheless, some interest in aesthetic microphotography was still simmering in my mind throughout my scientific life and it once again became more interesting in parallel with my passion for minimalistic landscape photography. About 2 years ago, I started this project with the working title “Crystalline Landscapes” or “A Crystalline World”. I knew that dilute solutions of organic or anorganic salts or other solutes form almost two-dimensional crystalline crusts. Many microscopists use these preparations to make colourful abstract photomicrographs using polarized light. I decided not to make placative images with crying colors but, rather, silent, minimalistic compositions. Since then I have been studying the possibilities of this conceptual attempt (at least when my narrow time budget allowed for it). In fact, while working on this project I became more and more fascinated by the often minimalistic, very clear and sometimes surreal structures formed in the process of crystallization. The crystalline preparations offer so many details which lend themselves to aesthetic image elements because of their unique structure, the curiosity they evoke, the melody of periodicity or bilateral or radial symmetry expressed in their shapes. Its great creative fun to play with these structures, to extract them from a complex preparation and then display them in aesthetic isolation– and without the pressure of the need for meticulous scientific documentation so one gains an enormous creative freedom. I started the project by restricting myself to black and white images, later I allowed a bit of color in the images, and now I am also experimenting with some stronger colors but still with a very narrow color palette. I think the accompanying images document this development quite well.

Text and Images by Bernd Walz.

A Crystalline World

"Feathered Space" (c) Bernd Walz"The Tree" (c) Bernd Walz"Balance" (c) Bernd Walz"Floral" (c) Bernd Walz"Plisse" (c) Bernd Walz"Zen" (c) Bernd Walz"Solitaire" (c) Bernd Walz"Weiss" (c) Bernd Walz"The Boat" (c) Bernd Walz"Balancing Shapes" (c) Bernd Walz"Cryptic Landscape" (c) Bernd Walz"Genesis" (c) Bernd Walz"Hommage a Alberto Giacometti" (c) Bernd Walz"Le Jongleur" (c) Bernd Walz

All images on this page are protected by copyright and may not be used  for any purpose, without Bernd Walz‘s permission.
The text on this page is protected by copyright and may not be used for any purpose without Bernd Walz or Nathan Wirth‘s permission.

One Comment

  1. Stephen Cairns June 29, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Thoroughly enjoyable read Bernd Walz. The history of micro-photography and how it has crossed over into art is quite interesting. It seems to me most truly original work comes from situations like this – when one’s work and art intersect in unique and creative ways. The images are wonderful. I particularly like “Balance.” It’s interesting to see how the micro world can resemble objects we see in “our world.” You sound quite busy. I hope you can find the time to further your exploration of this photography.

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