We all cry — some, admittedly, more than others. And while many of us think about why we cry, or what we happen to be crying about, we might not question what our actual tears contain.
Curious and creative photographer Maurice Mikkers did wonder about this, so he began “bottling up the emotion” — that is to say, his own tears, and those of his friends — and placed them under a microscope. The result was a series he called Imaginarium of Tears.
“Science says that every tear has a different viscosity and composition,” Mikkers told Business Insider. “All tears contain a variety of biological substances, including oils, antibodies and enzymes suspended in salt water.”
Scientifically, tears are divided into three different categories based on their origin: emotional, basal, and reflex.
Mikkers sought to examine tears from a number of subjects to see if they looked different depending on what caused them.
To gather tears caused by an emotional reaction, Mikkers would give the subject space, requesting they collect the tear samples on their own.
For basal tears, subjects were instructed to keep their eyes open while looking into a large ventilator. This dried their eyes out and naturally produced tears.
And finally, for the reflex tears, participants performed tear-inducing activities, like chopping onions or eating hot peppers.
Without being able to control the humidity, temperature, and pressure for all of the tears photographed, Mikkers concluded that the origin of the tears didn’t really matter too much at all. Each tear had a different appearance, but there wasn’t much similarity between those in the same category.
“It’s hard to say if the physiology described in science is actually seen when a tear is crystallizing under a microscope, or if the emotional waves and state of the person is influencing the way the tear is shaping when crystallizing,” Mikkers said.
Just like a scientist, he keeps track of his findings with immense care and detailed notes. Mikkers documented his findings through the third lens of his trinocular microscope, where he was able to place his Canon 5D Mark II camera to document the phenomena with incredible detail.
The whole project stemmed from a desire to investigate the parts of our lives we don’t usually question.
“It’s like magic waiting to happen,” Mikkers said of photographing tears, adding that he was surprised to see what his own tear looked like. “I never know what new kinds of structures will be forming when crystallizing a tear, whether it’s from a new person or not. There will always be a new unique shape presented.”
Below are a selection of photos that display how his friends’ tears were affected based on what caused the reaction.
Reflex tears: After cutting white onions.
Psychic tears: After an emotional response.
Reflex tear: After crying from high-dosed menthol oil on eyelid.
Basal tear: After looking into a ventilator.
Basal tear: After looking into a ventilator and smiling.
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