Overview of six tears from six different people.


How my passion for visualising stories by using a microscope, became bigger than I could ever dream of.

Maurice Mikkers
Jan 7, 2016 · 19 min read

In the beginning of 2015 I started the project called “Imaginarium of Tears”, an ongoing photography tear collection with personal stories at its heart. which started around the time I posted the article Photographs that reveal the true beauty of tears which now is a bit outdated. The project evolved, and a lot has happend since. In this new article I hope to give you more detailed view of my journey and story, and more insights on how the project evolved.

It all started at the 10th of januari 2015, when I was working on the crystallisation of Diclofenac. When walking back from the kitchen to my desk with the crystalised Diclofenac slide. I bumped my toe really hard against the table. So while in pain, there was was only one thing on my mind; Capturing the tear rolling down my cheek with a micro pipet. Right after it was captured, I dispensed the tear it into little drops on a microscope slide. Hoping it would maybe also crystallise just like my other subjects and show its true beauty.

At that moment I had no clue what technique I had to use to make the tear visible. So I tried several light techniques underneath my microscope. The first technique was the bright-field technique (the one you often use in high school). Next up was the polarisation technique (which I was using for my other crystallisation images). Both gave very beautiful and different results, but something was missing. So I installed the dark-field condensor in my microscope to see what it would do.

*This tear is a reproduction of the moment, showing you the different microscope techniques as described above. Giving you more insight on the actual first moment of exploring the tear under the microscope.

I still remember that moment when I was looking trough the microscope, after the the dark-field condensor was installed. I was stunned, the tear lid right up on the dark background. It was shaped like a little planet, and its landscape showed beautiful patterns and shapes. At that moment I was surprised and “hooked” at the same time. And felt like a ‘planet tear ☺’.

My first tear underneath the microscope. Emotional tear: Tear of pain.

My first thoughts right after seeing my first tear was, “ I want to cry gain!” and “Is this for real?” So to continue the journey, I walked back to the kitchen to grab a knife, cutting-board and some unions. I started cutting onions until I started to cry again.

The following days I kept finding ways to get myself crying. By looking in to a big floor ventilator or by watching sad and/or happy movies. Sneeze or yawn, I did anything to get a tear rolling down my cheeks.

During these days, tears from many different origins found its way underneath the microscope. Facilitating many experiments that led up to the way I’m currently still using to proces the tear. The drying and imaging is still done in the same way. And its final shape; a strong aesthetic nearly perfect circle, showing its beautiful crystals.

Emotional tear: sadness

So now I knew how to make tears visible, but it did not explain why tears looked like that. While experimenting, I started reading more about the background of tears. Since I “accidentally” came across its beauty.

There were only a few thinks I did know, or could guess before I started reading about (crystallising)tears. One of the things I suspected was, that its shapes were mainly formed by the minerals found in the tear fluid. But why the crystallisation turned out differently evert time, I did not know! Maybe it was because of its physiological composition? Or maybe it was the temperature or the humidity it was dried in? Maybe it was a combination of all the above? These questions needed answers!

Like the most of us nowadays do, when seeking for answers; I Googled tears. And the first hit was a Wikipedia page. Which told me that science divides tears in three types; Basel tears, reflex tears and emotional tears. And that the tear fluid of all tear types consists of: water, lipids, glucose, mucin, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, urea, sodium, potassium, chloride, manganese and lysozyme.

But that there was one exception, the emotional tear, it contains more then the contents above, it also contains: Prolactin, adrenocorticotropic and leucine enkephalin (a natural painkiller)

Sill it did not explain why every tear turned out so differently underneath the microscope! So I started to google “Crystalised tears” and it instantly showed me another artist Rose-Lynn Fisher. As an artist she is also fascinated about the microscopic looks of tears underneath the microscope, calling them “Topography of Tears”. But also her (art)works did not specifically explain why every (type) of tear turned out so differently.

Still fascinated by its beauty I decided to upload my first tear micrograph onto Facebook. The next morning I was surprised by the responses the image got. Apparently I was not the only one that was fascinated and intrigued by its natural beauty. But it was also hard for the people to belive it was a tear underneath a microscope, responses like; “this must be a computer render or something else”. Next to that the micrograph raised a lot of questions; “Why are the crystals formed like that?” “How are the crystals formed?”

Because of these responses, I decided to start an evening of experimenting with my close friends. Easy as it is these days, I created an event on Facebook called “Imaginarium of Tears” (not knowing the name would stick ☺) Within a few hours the ten spots that where available were full.

And on the 8th of march 2015, ten of my friends came over. The idea was simple, voluntarily choose a way of crying. Knowing that science has divided crying in three types of tears based on their origin, The options to choose from were: Basal: look into a floor ventilator, keep your eyes open for more then 60 seconds without blinking. Reflex: eating peppers or cutting onions Emotional: finding a way to cry from happiness, sadness, pain or pleasure.

The most difficult part was actually to cry, and like most of us know crying on command is difficult. So this sometimes took a bit longer then expected (yes, even when cutting an onion). But the proces once you cry is relatively simple, at the moment the tears are rolling down your cheek. You or someone else captures the tear with a micropipet, and puts it in to a mini reaction tube (eppendorf cup of 1.5ml).

A few minutes later the tear can then be dispensed on too a microscopic slide with a micropipet by making several small (1–4 mm) drops. After this step it takes some time to crystallise and settle.

The crystallisation proces usually takes 5 tot 30 minutes, depending on the different variables such as humidity, temperature and your unique physiology. After the tear drop(s) are crystallised they are ready to be imaged.

How the crystallisation process takes place underneath the microscope.

The structures seen under the microscope are largely crystallised minerals binding with mucins. Different variations of minerals binding with mucins can be found back here. Like said before the circumstances under which the tear dries can lead to radically dissimilar shapes and formations, so two emotional tears with the exact same chemical makeup can look very different up close.

To see if there was a resemblance or difference in the structure of forming tears, I took images of every type tear drop under the microscope. The first conclusion of the “Imaginarium of Tears” was that there was no relative resemblance in any of the tears. They were all unique, even within the same tear types. It was not dried in a fully controlled environment but, the temperature and humidity were quite the same during the evening.

At the end of the night every tear was crystalised and imaged, and to keep track of the results I started to write an article on the 9th of March 2015 called; Photographs that reveal the true beauty of tears. Showing its first results and insights to the public (and later updated it with new images).

The evening of “Imaginarium of Tears” and its first article, together with the beautiful images were a bigger succes than I could imagine. So it was time to expand and get more people to donate their tears from different kinds of origins. Two weeks later on the 22nd of march 2015 there was a second event of “Imaginarium of tears with a new group of voluntears ☺.

It’s magic kept interesting people and even a second event for ten new voluntears was not enough. So I kept continuing in small private sessions, which took up allot of time. I had to find a way to reduce the session time and at the same time find a way to get more genuine moments. So I needed to figure out if it would be posable to make a “tear kit”. A kit that could be send trough the mail with the necessarily items to capture the tear.

Ideally you could order a “tear kit” online with a manual, stickers, micropipet, a few micro pipet points and eppendorf reaction tubes of 1.5ml.

With this “tear kit” at home you could share your personal story when a genuine moment present its self, making the project even more personal. Since we all have our own story to share, I hope that this kit will be able to capture that special tear. Once you have captured your tear with the “tear kit”. The tear should be send back together with with the micropipet, once received the tear and your special story will be visualised and added to the “Imaginarium of Tears” project.

There was only one big problem with this idea; Storing the tear for more then a few hours will render it useless. Why I cant exactly tell, but I think this is because something in the tear fluid “deteriorates“ in time outside the body. I tried several ways to store the tear but after more then 4–5 hours its just just becomes useless. Even when the temperature of the storage container where eppendorf reaction tube with the tear is controlled. Temperatures like 37°C (body temperature), 20°C (room temperature) or 4°C in the refrigerator or -18°C in the freezer did not do the trick.

None of the tears showed a result that came close to its “original” control sample when crystalised directly after the tear is produced and harvested. The stored sample showed almost no crystals or just one big weird “artefact”.

The idea of a “tear kit” hit a dead end, but I’m not year ready to give up on it. Hopefully one day I will find a way to give you the option of sending in your tear. Because I believe everyone should be able to share his or her tears. Because tears are stories. And stories connect us on a deeper level. So since everyone has their own story, I hope that I can visualise your story in the near future even if you are not able to donate it on location.

With this setback I needed to find a way to get genuine emotional tears, so I asked my close friends, family and acquaintances to notify me so we could meet up. The project slowly started to move towards were it is today showing the hidden stories behind ever tear. Stories and moments that are worth sharing.

Like my friend who donated a tear of sadness, because her dad was very sick and there was nothing she could do about it.

Emotional tear: sadness

Or the tear of complete frustration from my sister because her boss does not allow here to give her full potential at work.

Emotional tear: Complete frustration

And the tear of goodbye of a young man that had to return to his home country after having lived here for months.

Emotional tear: Goodbye

More and more tears and its hidden stories were visualised and project started to grow. Step by step it natural evolved, resulting in my first exhibition as a photographer on the 7th of may 2015 at Zaal3 in The Hague.

The exhibition was not only for me a great succes, it also got great reviews of its visitors. Especially the way the prints were presented was received very well. For me it was a great wat of interacting with the audience, a perfect way to practice my Q/A and get out the story of the project.

Right after the exhibition VANTAGE published a great article on my artworks. Boosting its publicity to the next level and that was just the beginning of what was yet to come.

On the 2nd of June 2015 the Daily Mail, Gizmodo and many other big websites, blogs, magazines and news papers published the story of “Imaginarium of Tears”. The chain reaction started and it became so big that I could not track all its’s publications anymore. Which resulted in more and more interviews and media requests on a daily basis for the next weeks.

Surpassingly the publications are still going on, almost every day there is a publication somewhere about (micrograph stories / “Imaginarium of Tears”). Since the list would be to long, here are just a few of them.

Screenshot of the webpage of National Geographic

Wired.com, Business Insider, Wired.de, Smithsonian, Huffingtonpost, The Creators Project(us), The Creators Project(nl), National Geographic, Fubiz NRC , HK News, 20minutes, Daily motion, BoredPanda, Design TAXI, Sciences Avenir, FONTANEL, CoDesign, TELEGRAM, Tech Times, China Times, La Repubblica, mentalfloss, Creative Boom, Gizmodo, Boing Boing, — and many more.

PDF spread of Dutch Newspaper NRC NEXT

NRC -Next, NRC Handelsblad, De Standaard, Libération, Deccan Chronicle, BlogWeekly Magazine — and many more.

Slowly and steady I kept continuing to expand the tear collection, when one day I got the request to be part of the TodaysArt festival. Which was a really great opportunity to bring the project to its next level. Since interaction is important during a festival, it was the ideal opportunity too start experimenting with experience sessions were you could visualise your own tear on location during the exhibition.

Small impression of the exposition and the live experience of Imaginarium of Tears at TodaysArt. Film by: Tanja Busking, Kim Idsinga, Dayna Casey, Seppe Ovink, Benjamin van Gaalen

During the festival on the 25th & 26th of september 2015 10 tears where presented at The Pier in Scheveningen in the so called ”Class Room”. A Beautiful room with a great view or the coastal line of Scheveningen. Thousands of visitors per day, came to the event Todays Art and most of these visitors took a look at the exhibition. The interaction with the visitors was great. Intrigued by the artworks allot of its visitors were interested in the experience sessions, all wanting to know how their tear would look underneath the microscope. Unfortunately not all tears could be imaged since the proces takes about 3 hours per person. The visitors that booked a session in advance were able to see their tear crystallising live and directly trough the microscope. Giving them the opportunity to see and turn their tear in to ART. Which after they would get there tear digitally (1500x1500pixels) and in a small print of 20x20cm.

The only thing that was hard to accomplish in a setting like this; crying on command form genuine moments. Like mentioned before; crying form an emotion on is difficult, even when there is a special private tear booth. So as a backup there were also different options to choose from to create basal or reflex tears.

Basal tears: tear that is harvested after looking in to a fan for a few minutes.
Emotional tear: Sadness

The exhibition and the live experience sessions were a great sucses resulting in beautiful interactions with and between visitors. — — For me this was also the first time of visualising and imaging tears in a different location. Before tears where only visualised at home. Due its new location I found out that the room with controlled air system made the tears crystallise way faster than it would normally do at home. What normally would take 15–30 minutes at home, at this location started to crystallise within 5 to 10 minutes.

Which takes me back to the beginning were I mentioned the different variables that are responsible for a tear to dry and crystallise; temperature, humidity and your unique tear fluid physiology.

The only way to solve and answer the big questions related to the different forms and shapes of the crystalised tears. Are to see if we can dry and crystallise tears in a stable environment which can be controlled at al times. Therefore we need a lab incubator with this equipment we can test the drying and crystallisation of the tears and figure out the perfect conditions to get the best crystals and results. But more important we can use the same conditions to exclude any outside factors that are involved. With this method I hope that the differences that show op in the crystallisation are due to your unique physiology, and not due the fact that the temperature and humidity / time it took to crystalised was influencing the patterns, forms and shapes of the dried / crystalised tear.

Once the only factor is your unique physiology and the type of tear / emotion we can start comparing tears with another. And maybe als answer some of the other questions that are asked often.

“Is there a resemblance between the tears of the same person?”
“Is there a resemblance between the tears of the same type?”
“Do different emotions create different structures?”For example;

So what would happen if we start the experiment with a lab incubator and see what would happen if we;

1.) Cry 25 times over a specific period of time from exactly the same emotion?

2.) Cry 25 times from diffrent types of emotions, or even mix it up with with different tear types.

3.) Cry …?

What would be the result of this experiment? Would they all look the same? Would there be a big resemblance? Or would they still look very different?

But what if there would be another influence factor? Some of us like Masaru Emoto a Japanese author, researcher say that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water. So since we largely consist out of water (just like the tear fluid), maybe this human consciousness is also influencing how the (emotional) tears are shaped.

So by getting an lab incubator we can maybe figure out more about why the minerals and mucins together with the other factors are shaped like they are. Answering one or maybe more of the big questions most of us have.

Something I’m hopefully able to do in the near future, which stands on finding the money or a sponsor for an incubator to make this part of the project happening.

Hopefully we will answer some of these big questions soon, talking about Big Questions… (one month earlier) in July 2015 I got quite “big question” from Monique van Dusseldorp;

“ Maurice! Do you want to show your project Imaginarium of Tears at TEDxAmsterdam this year?”

My answer was of course; Yes! I would love to show Imaginarium of Tears , that would be fantastic! Please, let me know what you have in mind. In september I got the message;

“ You are going to be part of TEDxAmsterdam as a Speaker!”

— — Well when I got that message, I had to read it maybe 10 — times and started to cry from happiness☺ I could not believe it, I just got a message saying; I would be one of the TEDxAmsterdam speakers of this year! Whaaaat I’m going to do a TED talk! And at the same time I was Shit hihih I never had done a talk before!

Emotional tear: Happiness

So in October there was a whole new challenge I needed to prepare for, a TED talk on the 27th of November 2015 in the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam for TEDxAmsterdam with this years theme; Big Questions.

I had no clue how and where to start, there was quite some things that I needed to prepare for. Lucky my presentation coach Sonja van Eeghen knew everything to know about how to give a GREAT presentation and TED talk! When we first met in oktober she told me;

“For every minute on stage, you need at least 1h preparation time to make it good!”

…Well since it was my first talk ever, it took more then 1h for every minute, so Sonja if you are reading this! Thank you again for your patients and great coaching. Without you it would not have turned out like it did and I could not have dreamed for a better talk. ☺

But giving the talk was not the only thing I was going to do during TEDxAmsterdam. In my talk I would ask the audience to donate a tear;

We should share our tears. Because tears are stories. And stories connect us on a deeper level. So since everyone has their own story, I hereby invite you to donate your tear today, be they happy or unhappy. You will be able to find me downstairs in the lobby. You can donate your tear in our special, private tear booth and I will visualise your story.

So this is the invitation to turn your tear in to ART.

Because, just like ideas worth spreading, I believe in tears worth shedding☺.

TED talk TEDxAmsterdam 27 november 2015

I stil cant believe I was standing on stage at TEDxAmsterdam talking about my passion of visualising stories by using a microscope. It was an honour to stand for such an audience. I still can’t express it in words, how I felt wen the days, hours, minutes and seconds counted down towards the moment I had to walk on the big stage (but my fit bit can tell you ☺). Giving the talk that I have practiced for the last weeks, a moment never to forget!

What even more surprised me, was the que downstairs in te lobby. Apparently I had touched the audience in such a way that they came flocking down in the lobby to get there tear visualised under the microscope. Honestly I only expected a dozen to show up, since crying on command is just not that easy, and from the experience form the other events only a few people dared to donate in a public area, even if there was a private booth. Flabbergasted I started to proces the first tears that were already donated by the first in que. But with a que longer then I could see, we unfortunately could not get every tear imaged.

So there are some bottle necks in the project that needs some attention to get it ready for a bigger audience. The “list of things” keeps growing each day. So here is a bit of what the future of Imaginarium of Tears will bring in terms of what is coming and needs to be done (finding solutions to problems).

The future of Imaginarium of Tears

Upcoming and problem solving

A few request are in the pipeline as soon as I know more this list wil be updated with more accurate information:

April — More information soon
May — More information soon

The website www.imaginariumoftears.com needs to be finished, currently its showing beautiful slowmotion footage that shows part of the proces.

Slowmotion footage as a place holder for the Imaginarium of Tears future website.

In the near future I hope to also include a visual experience database of al the hidden stories and its unique tears. With print availabilities and a subscription from were you can book your own private session.

Thanks Tom of buurmen.nl for the quick and smooth current website holder and Victor from grndpa.com for the help with the slowmotion footage of the proces.

Next to the website there is also going to be a book with the results and the story of Imaginarium of Tears, currently we are working on small mockups and ideas to get the best posable way of showing its beauty in book form.

Cover sketch of the book

I’m asked by Woes to be part of the project Post Modern. A project with ARTIST EDITION POSTCARDS. Since allot of my inquiries are about, posters, books, prints and postcards. This was a good way of getting involved with a project that is actually supporting and helping out distributing postcards. Currently also these postcards (next to the book and website) are being designed and are in its sketch fase. Hopefully I can show more soon.

So If you are interested in the upcoming book or the post cards please let me know and I will put you on a list so you can be one of the first to get its unique signed book or postcard.

I already want to thank Camilla of Studio Lonis for helping me out in the proces of making this book and postcards.

As you may see there is allot of things that are in the pipeline or that need to be done. Things that need some time to create.

Next to that there are some things that are depending on financing, to get the right extra equipment and finding a studio-space. Once I have figured out how to finance this equipment and studio-space I hope to be able to welcome more people that are interested in turning their tear in to art.

Just like I ended the last article on this subject; In the future the series of “Imaginarium of Tears” will continue growing with new images of new tears. And like mentioned above; do this more consistently, I would love to get my hands on a even better microscope and a lab incubator so that the images and tears would have more consistency, less chromatic aberration, better detail and less color differences in the tears.

And It would be great if one day I would be able too share this experience live with you during a local exposition. An exposition where you as a volunteer can donate a tear, a tear that would be added to the collection of tears that will travel the world.

Or maybe even more crazy to capture the tears of our biggest world leaders, and see how their tears look, cause after all there human too.

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