A Photograph of the Little Dumbbell Nebula Eaten by Bacteria Found on My Gym’s 20-Pound Dumbbells
A Photograph of Alpha Centauri Eaten by Bacteria Found on My Asshole
For Cosmos, Florida-based photographer Marcus DeSieno collects various strains of bacteria and breeds them on the surface of positive film slides depicting scenes from outer space. In scanning the film after it has been partially eaten away by the bacterial colonies, he unites the microscopic organisms with the infinite galaxies, condensing all of existence within a single frame.
The process begins, he explains, with the swabbing of a seemingly benign surface, like a phone or a remote control. The original images are found from the archives of institutions like NASA or ESA, and he converts them to film slides in collaboration with a company that reproduces digital files onto film. He then covers the slides in nutrient agar, in which he sets the bacteria-laden swabs. Finally, he scans the film, killing each organism in the process.
In his youth, DeSieno lived in compulsive fear of germs and pathogens, feeling compelled to wash his hands after every encounter with surfaces that he considered to be dirty or unsanitary. In many ways, Cosmos is a direct confrontation of these anxieties, and as the project has continued, he has expanded into increasingly questionable collection sites, including hotel jacuzzis, adult video stores, and human orifices. Although many elements of bacteria growth—color, for instance— remain unpredictable, he is able to control to some extent the patterns and rate of reproduction by storing the film in various environments. The trunk of his car and tupperware dishes, for example, are prime breeding grounds for their humidity and darkness.
In many ways, DeSieno plays the part of the mad scientist, admitting that he derives a perverse pleasure from creating and then annihilating millions of living things. The project, he says, is a means of gaining control, an exercise done in part to assuage the dread and feelings of remoteness that come with the knowledge of the vastness of the universe.
In allowing the bacteria to consume the film and its layers of emulsion, DeSieno removes the photograph from its purpose of depicting reality and reveals its basic material qualities. In surrendering photography—the medium by which we see, record, and make meaning of the world around us— to the whims of the hungry microorganisms, Cosmos ultimately refutes mankind’s dominion over the universe as much as it strives to affirm it, and the bacteria become an allegory for the fragility of human life. We, like the microbes, flicker in and out of existence, and if we’re lucky, we leave something beautiful behind.
A Photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy Eaten by Bacteria Found on an ATM
A Photograph of a Barred Lenticular Galaxy Eaten by Bacteria Found in My Belly Button
A Photograph of a Hydrogen Gas Cloud Eaten by Bacteria Found on a Gas Station Pump
A Photograph of a Star Cluster Eaten by Bacteria Found on My iPhone’s Screen
A Photograph of a Star Cluster Eaten by Bacteria Found on a Light Switch
A Photograph of the Whirlpool Galaxy Eaten by Bacteria Found in a Motel’s Heart-Shaped Hot Tub
A Photograph of the Pleiades Star Cluster Eaten by Bacteria Found on a Public Bathroom’s Door Handle
A Photograph of the Crab Nebula Eaten by Bacteria Found on a Table at a Red Lobster Restaurant
A Photograph of the Reticulum Constellation Eaten by Bacteria Found on My Television’s Remote
A Photograph of the Planet Venus Eaten by Bacteria Found Inside of a Vagina
All images © Marcus DeSieno