Zooming in on the Topography of Tears

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Photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher wondered if her tears of happiness differed from her tears of grief  so she put them under a microscope.

Topography of Tears is a photographic study of 100 tears using a standard light microscope. Fisher started the project when she was going through "a period of personal change, loss, and copious tears," and it grew to include the tears of others. She sampled a wide range of tears, gathered in moments of elation, sorrow, rejection, laughter, exhaustion, chopping onions, and more.

While Fisher is quite clear that her inquiry is artistic rather than analytic, the concept is grounded in science. Tears are as unique as snowflakes. They fall into three categories: psychic tears, triggered by grief, joy, and other strong emotions; basal tears, the lubricant released continuously by the eye; and reflex tears, released in response to irritants

Along with salt, tears contain a variety of oils, enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. Psychic tears, for example, contain the neurotransmitter leucine encephalin, which acts as a painkiller when the body is under stress. After the tears evaporate, Fisher zooms in, revealing the patterns that emerge based on those different compounds. In Fisher's portraits, each set of tears tells its own story. She describes them as “aerial views of emotional terrain.” Looking at her photographs feels like staring out a plane window at the passing landscape below.

Tears of timeless reunion (Rose-Lynn Fisher)
Tears of timeless reunion (Rose-Lynn Fisher)


Tears of grief (Rose-Lynn Fisher)
Tears of grief (Rose-Lynn Fisher)


Tears of ending and beginning (Rose-Lynn Fisher)
Tears of ending and beginning (Rose-Lynn Fisher)


Tears of possiblity/hope (Rose-Lynn Fisher)
Tears of possibility/hope (Rose-Lynn Fisher)


Onion tears (Rose-Lynn Fisher)
Onion tears (Rose-Lynn Fisher)
Tears of change (Rose-Lynn Fisher)
Tears of change (Rose-Lynn Fisher)