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Photos of Microscopic Landscapes Made of Human Tears

What couldn’t be fixed © Rose-Lynn Fisher

Redemption © Rose-Lynn Fisher

Los Angeles photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher has shot an estimated one thousand images of human tears, collected on approximately two hundred glass slides and viewed through a vintage Zeiss optical microscope. Most of them are hers; while working on The Topography of Tears, she even kept slides in her purse in case she cried while she was out of the horse. One is from a newborn baby, others from her mother and brother.

Scientists classify tears in three basic types. Basal tears lubricate and nourish the corneas. Every human produces about 0.75-1.1 grams of basal tears each day. Reflex tears occur when our eyes are irritated. Pepper spray, tear gas, and even the vapor from chopped onions all cause reflex tears.

Then there’s the third type: psychic tears. Most scientists, including the biochemist William H. Frey II, who penned an essay for Fisher’s book, believe these tears are only cried by humans. The evolutionary advantage of these tears is still mysterious, though, in 1985, Frey suggested the idea that they could be the body’s way of eliminating chemicals associated with stress.

The book’s title comes from the artist’s realization that many of the images look like maps charting strange and unknown worlds. The “topography” of any given specimen is determined by the type of tear— psychic tears have hormones that aren’t present in other tears— as well as the biology of the person who cried them.

Additionally, variations in Fisher’s technique cause variations in the tears themselves. Some are air-dried, and others are compressed on their slides with a cover slip. A tear can look different depending on the camera and microscope settings.

But there are elements of Fisher’s images that can’t be explained by science, and the great poet Ann Lauterbach also wrote an essay for the book, drawing on work from William Blake and Janis Joplin to define the many meanings of tears.

It’s only in the afterword that Fisher reveals the personal inspiration behind the work, the initial event that made her cry. It was the loss of a friend—a painful thing, yes, but also a familiar one. In those final pages of text, we’re surprised to remember the ordinariness of the many epic “landscapes” that came before. Suddenly, they don’t seem so alien anymore.

The Topography of Tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher is published by Bellevue Literary Press. Find it here.

As she crossed over the bridge disappeared © Rose-Lynn Fisher

Grief and gratitude © Rose-Lynn Fisher

I remember you © Rose-Lynn Fisher

Laughing till I’m crying © Rose-Lynn Fisher

Onion 2 © Rose-Lynn Fisher

Remorse © Rose-Lynn Fisher

What it meant long after a time forgotten © Rose-Lynn Fisher

All images from The Topography of Tears. © 2017 by Rose-Lynn Fisher: www.rose-lynnfisher.com. Published by Bellevue Literary Press.

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