10th January 2014
In our Spotlight feature, we ask our members some questions to learn more about what inspires their photography, the processes they use to make images, and the stories behind their favorite pictures.
Q: What’s the story behind this photo?
A: This is a photomicrograph of a thin section of ocean jasper, a variety of jasper found only in Madagascar, characterized by small spherical aggregates (spherulites, or “orbs”), just a few millimeters in diameter, that derive from the transformation of former volcanic flows of tuffs or rhyolites. Being mined out, ocean jasper is becoming among the most collectible stones for lapidary. I had long been searching for affordable samples of ocean jasper, [and then] I saw a necklace in a market stall. I bought it, cut all the beads (of some disappointment to my wife), prepared thin sections from them, and put them under the microscope. They turned out to contain a microscopic garden of flowers of quartz in a fine-grained silica matrix, like in this image, by many named the Sunflower. Spherulites are among the most interesting subjects I have worked with: They can be single or in clusters, made of fibrous or crystalline silica, with or without opaque-rich cores. They demonstrate how variegated and exciting rocks can be, when observed from within.
Q: Why do you take pictures?
A: I am an anomalous photographer. I take primarily photomicrographs (photos at the microscope) because my job as a scientist requires it: As a geologist I need to document the “life” and evolution of a rock through its microstructures, and to do it with good images. Parallel to the scientific side, for two decades I have also worked on the aesthetic side of photomicrography, developing my own niche in capturing the beauty in tiny slices of rocks. Apart from shooting at the microscope, I take pictures during my travels and vacations with my family.
Q: What do you like to take pictures of and why?
A: My main subjects are small pieces of stones, even the most ordinary, that are sliced down to a 0.03-mm thickness and looked through with polarized light. I also take pictures of fragments of plastic bags or nylon films, which are extremely photogenic, too.
I take these photographs because I want to showcase the hidden beauty of rocks under the microscope, and because people say “wow” when they see them, even if they don’t know what the subject is …
Q: How would you describe your photographic style?
A: Technically speaking it is polarized light photomicrography. In simpler words, when I find the “right” rock, I let her display her beautiful colors (the “interference colors”) by playing with polarizers. Not with Photoshop.
Q: Are you a self-taught photographer? If not, how did you learn to shoot?
A: Mostly self-taught. I was trained in the basics of photomicroscopy by the technicians of the geosciences department at the University of Padova. For conventional photography, outdoor and macro, I learned from friends, a few books, and specialized journals.
Q: What do you want to say with your images?
A: I want to disclose the beauty of a small word that is normally accessible only to geologists and students of geology. And with a beautiful image I can also tell an interesting story of our planet. Indeed it is funny how my photomicrographs are appreciated more by the general public than by colleagues or students, for whom a microscope is often a tedious or painful instrument rather than a window into the unknown.
See more of Bernardo’s images in his Your Shot gallery.
For more on microscopy see here.
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