Reading about the father of microbiology for yesterday’s post inspired me to return to one of my favorite forms of photography, the extreme closeup, which has been a fascination of mine for some time, most likely because it so aligns with other perennial fascinations: the unseen world, the right-before-the-eyes wonders that are easily missed by habitual lenses, and a belief in the transcendent potential of the the act of looking long enough and closely enough, with a willingness to appreciate unseen wonders, bowing to them over a lens, in postures of awe and reverence––for the wonders themselves, and for the artists who knew how to look, who took the time to wait, sore necks bowed over lenses, so that others might see: not what might or can be, but what already is.
Sweep of obsidian, the curved form of a new age creature, the decorated ponytail extending from an avian head, the fine grain of its surface, the smooth luster of the skin. Where is it looking, so made up, and what is this creature?
That is the hind leg of a beetle.
What can I make of this glowing-red canopy from Alice’s wonderland, bright orbs giggling on top of it, a party of yellow puffer fish around the birthday cake?
Anther of hibiscus.
What is this now? Jungle of Pleistocene Forest, before the age of leaves, where the burgeoning woods are a viscous pink, part fiber and part gel, growing up and across like the storms of Jupiter, cooling in a mold, catching globs of supernovae?
That is cotton fabric, pollen grains.
Now a dreamscape: cloud bands fertile with wheat fields, above the twilight river, bodies of unborn fruit floating in it, their impish sweetness like thumbnail fairies?
Cross section of agate. Think you know rocks? Look at this.
That isn’t rock, but concentric circles of prism: green, blue, pink, suspended in snowflakes, but I don’t have the words right; the colors themselves are not even colors, but light in translation.
Check out this guy. He’s looking at you.
Look at this ant, his face grizzled with three-day-old whiskers and his Whatchou doing there? look, wearing the attitude of the widened trickster on the corner, the crazy uncle calling out the trouble you’re about to get into before you’ve even thought about it. He looks like he started in early on the rum punch and he’s cornering you with what you can already tell is going to be a long story.
These close-ups are really something, but look at this. Is this a lost Rothko, or an arial view of the ruins of some ancient cousin to Babylon’s gardens? Yes, it must be the gardens; look at this rich wood, these leaves, translucent gold petals of gossamer fabric. This must have been what the seraphim wore to blow trumpets; it must be––
That is a table salt crystal, and there is the vein and scales of a butterfly wing.
But what is this wild celebration of light, like a Van Gogh vision of Mardi Gras after the absinthe kicks in, like a pointillist’s version of stained glass?
That is a brain tumor, laced with a virus.
Oh, this world.
It’s almost too much.
To take in.
How does anyone ever do anything but look?
And take the hand of the next person, hold it and say, Look, look!
There it is.
There it is.
This reflection was inspired by a feature in The Atlantic on the winners of Nikon’s 2021 Small World Photography Competition.