Have you ever considered the terrain of your tears? The salty mixture that can signal pain, happiness, exhaustion, or terror – what does it look like? How does it relate to the emotions that cause them to trickle or stream down your face? Do they look aesthetically different? These are the types of questions that sparked artist and photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher to capture the essence of tears.
After losing contact with a friend, Fisher eventually reconnected with them. However, shortly after they found their ways back to each other, her friend passed away. The loss of her friend sparked tears of grief and gratitude as well as Fisher’s photography project ‘The Topography of Tears.’ Fisher wasn’t interested in the molecular make-up of the liquid but the actual look of the tears – when seen through a microscope to be exact. She was interested to study tears that came from different emotions and how they might tell the story of the feelings behind them.
So, in 2008, Fisher began collecting her tears. Keeping slides everywhere from her purse to kitchen drawers, Fisher would collect samples any time she cried for whatever reason. She would then examine the tears under a microscope magnified 100 times. Looking through the vintage microscope, the tears looked like an aerial map but, ‘instead of looking down on the land, I’m looking at my emotional terrain,’ Fisher told NPR. She then mounted a camera onto the microscope and snapped photos of the ‘terrain.’
Over the course of a decade, Fisher has continued the project. Toying with a range of factors – air-dried or compressed tears, the amount of tear on the slide, microscope and camera setting, and the method used to develop negative – Fisher has produced immense variation throughout the series. As she looks through the microscope, she frames the tear much like she would for a photo of more traditional subject matter. Some tears allowed for many interesting photographs while others lacked visual interest.
While looking at the patterns of the tears, Fisher began to explore the meaning behind the tears. She searched to find ‘their existential and poetic nature.’ Through the process, she found that a seemingly simple examination created less simple results. ‘I had never really contemplated tears before, or paid attention to the nuance of my own emotions,’ said Fisher. The tears she researched broke through barriers that allowed her to move past issues like never before. The experience, while producing stunning photos, became cathartic. Tears, she found, offered a snapshot of our entire existence as humans. The tears which come from us ultimately spawn images that resemble the world around us. ‘In these times particularly, I think it matter a lot to find our essential similarities with one another,’ said Fisher of her works in relation to the world as we know it.