Cosmic Microscapes

Neil H. Buckland – Meteorite thin-section microscopy

In week 2 of this module, while discussion Emerson’s “scientific division” and “artistic division”, I referenced my undergraduate years studying as a geologist.  In those years, it was prior to the straightforward photography of rock and mineral thin sections viewed through a microscope.  Consequently, the archived records of the thin sections were hand-drawn, with the images having to be facsimiles of the microscopic view, often taking ten or more hours to complete.  This was work I loved to do, requiring fantastic levels of concentration and attention to detail – something that echoes in my current practice.

Thin Section - porphrytic sample

Dominic Price (1997) Porphyritic rock thin section, Mull

While the images were pen and ink, in a single colour, indicative of the standard plain light microscopy, we would constantly switch to the beautifully colourful cross-polarised light used in order to clarify the details and composition of the rock sample.

metiorite 02

Carey Rose (2019) Meteorite thin section with visible colours altered by rotating one of the two polarised filters.

It pleases me to see the launch of an exhibition that reflects this area of scientific study, albeit working with meteorite thin sections.

Neil H. Buckland has always obsessed over detail: landscapes were his mainstay for fifteen or more years, with his approach being stitched landscape photography, using dozens of images for each completed photograph.  He has taken this approach to a microscopic level, photographing 300 or 400 2×2 mm tiles of cross polarised meteorite thin section, then stitching them together to allow him to produce 4m wide prints.

While my work used a Leica Light Microscope, but Buckland opted to build his own rig, not least because with a depth-of-field of just 3.5 microns (0.0035mm), the tiniest vibration during the 4-hour long capturing of a batch of 300+ images would result in him having to start all over again.  The result is a 25 Kg beast that is vibration-free:

Metiorite rig

Carey Rose (2019) Buckland’s rig is almost entirely custom-made for this specific purpose.

The results speak for themselves and reflect Buckland’s drive and passion:  “I’m obsessed with detail. When I make these giant landscape prints, I want you to stand in front of them and feel like you’re there,” Buckland said.  “With this custom rig, I can do that with a micro subject – not just giant landscapes.”  Thus, the name ‘microscape’ was born.

Metiorite print.jpg

Carey Rose (2019) Neil Buckland (and Brian) next to a completed print in his studio.

Buckland rather fell into this project following a request to supply a laboratory thin section image of a meteorite sample. On completing that task, he felt that he could do a much better job. Fascinated and inspired by the mysteries of science, he set out to blur the line between science and art.

The similarities between his practice and mine are striking – even down to the reasoning behind the research, followed by an almost obsessive pursuit for depth and detail.  Both  subjects (stained glass and laboratory thin sections) require transmitted light; both practices fulfil a similarly unique gap in the spectrum of photography and the execution is not dissimilar, with the need for atypical photography and then substantial amounts of post-production work.

The Cosmic Microscapes exhibition is current at the Frederick Holmes & Co. Gallery of Modern Art in Washington.


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