The Topography of Tears

Do tears of grief look different under the microscope than tears of happiness?

That’s the basis of photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher‘s new project, The Topography of Tears. Over the past several years, she collected human tears – her own and others – that accompany a wide range of feelings, including elation, sorrow, frustration, and rejection. (She’s even got tears from chopping onions and those of a newborn.)

“I started the project about five years ago, during a period of copious tear, amid lots of change and loss – so I had a surplus of raw material,” Fisher said to Joseph Stromberg of The Smithsonian’s Collage of Arts and Sciences blog. After realizing that “everything we see in our lives is just the tip of the iceberg,” visually speaking, she wondered what a tear looked like up close.

So Fisher caught one of her tears, dried it on a slide and peered through the microscope’s eyepiece. “It was really interesting. It looked like an aerial view, almost as if I was looking down at a landscape from a plane. Eventually, I started wondering – would a tear of grief look any different than a tear of joy? And how would they compare to, say, an onion tear?”

Onion tears

Tears of change

Tears of timeless reunion

Tears of grief

Basal tears

Laughing tears