Aesthetigraphs - FrameAesthetics - concerning the nature of beauty, art, and taste.

Micrographs - photographs taken through a microscope.

I just combined the two, so now we have another -graph word. Yes, it does sound a bit awkward, but it seems to fit.


The images shown in the video and the prints were collected over the 20 years encompassing my graduate student days and my time serving as the director of Materials Science Central Facilities at U.C. Davis. During these years I would spend weekends or stay until late at night exploring the non-technical elements of photomicroscopy, and this involved yet many more hours in the laboratory and the darkroom, and more recently at the computer, to obtain images such as those presented here.  My interest all along was not just mastering the technical skills or taking the perfect photo of a technical subject, but also to experiment with color and composition in a manner that my friends in the arts would appreciate, and in the end to obtain expressive photos from a world few people ever see yet which seem familiar.

On a more personal note, I have always been interested in art and science.  Growing up I was always drawing or painting, building things and taking them apart, researching chemicals and the elements, and examining everything I could find under my simple microscope. I took every art and science course the schools I attended offered, once even foolishly offering to swap an advanced-level literature course for an additional science course.  When time came to start thinking of college I wanted to apply to an art school but my father discouraged that.  Instead, I went to NCSU to study engineering and within a week decided to major in materials science, partly because it was obscure, and partly because it seemed to fill an interesting niche between physics (fundamentals) and engineering (design). This field also dealt with the nature of substances we use, one of my favorite childhood research subjects, plus I got to use microscopes.

Now that I am pretty much out of the materials profession I have had time to revisit old loves, and Aesthetigraphs is my first project. Obviously it draws heavily on my materials science background but it has also given me the chance to start to explore the relationship between art and science, a long time interest of mine, and hopefully it will allow me to continue to explore this and related subjects.

The Video
The video is a photo-montage showing a number of striking images, obtained using different types of microscopes and other imaging system, presented in chapters per the type of instrument used to produce the images.

I can't show you the video here because I don't have the rights to use the music in that way. But I can show you some of the images. You can find them in the gallery.

Making this Video
The oldest photos were shot using 35 mm film (Kodachrome, PanX, TriX) while for the more recent photos several generations of digital cameras were used, ranging from from 1 to 17 megapixel resolution.

The optical microscopes used were the Aus Jena Metaval, Nikon Labophot 2A, and the Olympus AX-70.  The electron microscope used to obtain all SEM images was FEI's XL30-SFEG scanning electron microscope. The x-ray dot maps were also produced on this microscope using EDAX's x-ray spectrographic analysis system. Finally the x-ray radiographs were produced using a Hewlett-Packard Faxitron and Polaroid film.

All 35 mm film images were scanned using a Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED 35 mm film scanner. The Polaroid film images were scanned using a Hewlett-Packard ScanJet 6250cse flatbed scanner.

The video was produced using Adobe Premiere Pro 2 working from 1440x960 pixel versions of the original images, unless the original images were at lower resolutions, which was the case for most SEM and some earlier digital images. The final video was exported directly to DVD.

A Few More Thoughts
Aesthetigraphs is presented as an exploration of art in nature using images of materials and objects not normally visible to us. This exploration takes place in two worlds.  One is the aesthetic world where abstract form and structure and color excite the imagination. The other is the world where the very same forms and structures inform us of the secrets of nature and natural processes and evoke in us that metaphysical sense of wonder and amazement that comes with discoveries that expand one's view of the world.

Things that interested me in this project was the question of can one see and enjoy both the aesthetic and objective elements in the same subject?  Will the art-biased viewer be willing to see the beauty that lies beneath the facade of color and form? Could he or she cross over to the analytical side? Likewise, could the science-biased viewer be coaxed into enjoying the color and forms presented without dismissing them and jumping straight to their technical aspects? Moreover, how much of these two views, or biases, do each of us have, and how comfortable are we in moving between them?

To try to accomplish this I present these images, with musical accompaniment to set a mood, then each series of images are shown. When I have shown this video to people I watch them carefully, noting not only their responses, but also how their mood changes within the few seconds each image is shown. What I've noticed is that everyone unfamiliar with the actual objects being shown, seem to go through several stages in viewing each image, starting with a gut or intuitive response, followed by an analysis of the image in terms of form and composition, and finally, they want to know what it actually is. The main difference I see in people is how long they spend in each stage, but that this usually happens within a few seconds. Having observed this, I adjusted the timing somewhat so that the typical viewer is presented a new image at just about the time they have started to ask themselves "What is it really?" I guess I'm trying to keep them off balance, or to keep them in mostly the aesthetic stages, and left wanting the resolution that can be found in the final, analytical, stage.

Credits and Thanks
All of the photos available as prints were taken by me using different optical microscopes at U.C. Davis and at Berkeley Research Center. The video and the prints are all produced by me at K Street Studio.

While I took nearly all of the optical micrographs shown in the video, I certainly did not take all of them.  Nearly all of the electron micrographs were taken by Mike Dunlap, a highly skilled and resourceful microscopist who is now working to build a U.C. Merced facility similar to the one we built at U.C. Davis.  Some student work, and derivations from student work, is also shown in the video. Finally, several years ago George Vander Voort gave me a CD-ROM containing hundreds of photos he has shown to people in his travels around the world when he gives talks on metallography. With George's permission, I am happy to be able to share a few of them with you in the video.

Most of the samples were mine and were prepared by me, a few were prepared by student interns, and others were provided by the researchers at U.C. Davis. (with permission) Their names are:

  • Aaron Broumas
  • Mike Dunlap
  • John Heritage
  • Mike Ikeda
  • Mike Meier
  • James Mohr
  • Amiya Mukherjee
  • Subhash Risbud
  • Heather Schembari
  • Raisa Talroza
  • Dave Woodbury
  • George Vander Voort

The music on the video is used with permission (not actually obtained yet).  The songs and artists are:

  • ACME Rocket Quartet, "El Baño del Amor", on "UHF", (Lather Records)
  • ACME Rocket Quartet, "High Centurions", on "UHF", (Lather Records)
  • The Aisler's Set, "The Train", on "How I Learned to Write Backwards", (Suicide Squeeze Records)
  • The B-52's, "53 Miles West of Venus", on "Wild Planet", (Warner Brothers Records)
  • Camper van Beethoven, "We Eat Your Children", on "Camper Vantiquities", (Cooking Vinyl/spinArt)
  • The Creatures, "Pluto Drive", on "Boomerang", (Geffen Records)
  • The Creatures, "Prettiest Thing", on "Prettiest Thing", (Sioux Records)
  • Myrna Loy, "Lebator'", on "10 Jahre Normal", (Normal Records)

I'd also like to thank the following for their support and input in this project.

  • Mary Hook - feedback and encouragement
  • Grace Jeffers - feedback and encouragement (Grace Jeffers)
  • Andrew Dorn - feedback and encouragement (Andrew Dorn)
  • David Thompson - ACME Rocket Quartet (Lather Records)