Rounded purple blobs close to one another. Orange fills the space between them.

WORKS – Lacrimosa by Sasha R. Gregor

In ALL, WORKS by McKenzie Prillaman

Sasha R. Gregor is a visual artist based in Barcelona who, for the past 20 years, has been using photography to investigate the act of crying. To him, crying is a “mysterious phenomenon of psychology that defines and challenges us as emotional beings.”

This project, aptly named Lacrimosa (Latin for “weeping”), is comprised of photos at 2000× magnification of tears shed by family, friends, and even celebrities. Gregor says that each photomicrograph in the collection serves as a symbolic portrait since it captures an experience and emotion unique to one person.

In this interview with Art the Science, Gregor explains the inspiration for the Lacrimosa project, how the undertaking has grown over the past two decades, and what the future holds.

A geometric pattern of individual cells all squished tightly together. It's comprised of bright colors -- mostly red and purple with bits of green and blue giving it dimension.
GT2 (1998) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC
An irregular green hexagon shape sits in the center surrounded by tiny green dots. This all sits atop a pale purple-gray background.
MJ2 (2009) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC
A bright yellow pattern emerging from a a central point in the upper righthand corner.
AC1 (2009) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

Why did you begin the Lacrimosa project?

The Lacrimosa project began almost anecdotally in 1998. At that time, I was starting my thesis on photomicrography during my graduate studies in technical-scientific photography. Meanwhile, I was familiarizing myself with the different lightning systems and techniques of an amazing Zeiss photomicroscope from the 80s. I dedicated myself to observing and photographing a wide spectrum of biological samples (microorganisms, sections of plant or animal tissues), metallographic samples, etc. As I was observing different samples, immersing myself in the wonderful universe of the beauty of the microscopic, my curiosity to observe more and more realities did not stop increasing.

One day, I was surprised to find my girlfriend crying (nothing too serious, luckily). After reassuring her, the image came to mind of how the internal structure of that substance—the tear—was capable of symbolizing the affective and emotional capability of the human being.

With permission granted, I captured one of the tears that had spilled from her eyes with a microscope slide glass, and the next day, I went to the laboratory to solve the enigma. The surprise was great: the chemical composition of the tear (salts, proteins, lipids, hormones, etc.), together with the power of the photomicroscope and the epistemic character of light, revealed a wonderful landscape of shapes, geometries, and colors.

A rounded pattern -- almost like a splash -- sitting on top of a dark blue background.
JG1 (1998) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC
A line of orange and green runs vertically with pieces branching out of the left and right sides. The shape sits atop a purple background.
SRG3 (1998) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

Lacrimosa merges a wide range of sciences (e.g. psychology, chemistry, technology). Did you know there would be such a variety of sciences involved when you started it?

At that time I was very aware of the cognitive power of the optical devices (the microscope in this case) and therefore of physical optics. On a conceptual level, my main passion was focused on the study of light as an epistemological source.

Upon discovering the microscopic world of tear physiology, I became interested in its chemistry and the interrelationship between it and psychology. It is known that there are two types of tears: mechanical (caused by a physical agent) and psychological (generated by an emotion). Studies have confirmed that emotional tears have a higher percentage of proteins and hormones in their composition, and the curious thing is that this affects the visual appearance of their microscopic structure.

A starburst pattern formed by translucent shapes on a faded burnt orange background.
JS3 (2001) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

“Each emotional tear can be considered unique and non-transferable, like a fingerprint.”

Sasha R. Gregor
Three twisted yellow-green coils on top of a blue background.
MP1 (2006) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC
Bright geometric shapes in pink, yellow, blue, and green. Most are blurred in the background, but a few are sharp and in focus. It looks like brightly colored sprinkles.
JS1 (2001) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

According to this, each emotional tear can be considered unique and non-transferable, like a fingerprint. And subsequently, if a tear represents the microcosm of a universal experience of a cathartic order, it metaphorically suggests a symbolic portrait of the person who has cried. It is thus summarized in crying, one of the greatest mysteries of nature and human psychology.

How has Lacrimosa changed over the past 20 years, and what insights have you taken away from such a long project?

Throughout the lifetime of Lacrimosa’s research and production, the project has been incorporating both conceptual and technological elements. Through crying—a metaphor for the irrational in human beings—the series has intensified its biographical and poetic aspect within scientific iconography. In some cases, an analysis of the possible resonances or coincidences between the typologies of emotions and the possible graphic patterns of the corresponding microscopic structures of their tears could have been proposed. However, as a visual artist, I am not particularly interested in entering this field of speculation. My task is much more devoted to creating from evocation, and my goal is focused on generating little doubts rather than on offering big answers.

A dark oblong shape is in the center of a background cloudy with swirling dark blue and black.
EE1 (2009) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC
A wobbly line of glowing green and yellow sits on top of a dark blue background with flecks of green. It almost looks like a glowing galaxy and stars in outer space.
PE2 (2008) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

Has Lacrimosa changed your views of art and/or science?

Lacrimosa has given me the opportunity to understand reality in a much broader sense. As a virtual artist, it has allowed me to verify that the limits of creation are found only in our conceptual framework. It has also allowed me to verify that, despite the fact that the methods of art and science are substantially different, creativity is common in both spheres of the human. In the end, both science and art are sources of knowledge. And in revealing new realities and “knowing” the unknown, sometimes you have to take a leap and descend into the depths of the irrational.

Small green flecks float on top of a gradient of blue and purple.
SG1 (2019) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

“In revealing new realities and ‘knowing’ the unknown, sometimes you have to take a leap and descend into the depths of the irrational.”

Sasha R. Gregor
A line of green sitting atop an orange background.
SG4 (2019) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

Tell us more about the immersive 3D virtual reality installation. Did you ever foresee this project being combined with technology in this way?

The installation of Lacrimosa in virtual reality has been an addition of 2019 for an exhibition that was held in Barcelona. Together with Maker Fly, a visual artist from Gran Canaria (Spain), we designed an immersive installation with 3D glasses in which, working with the tears of different people, visual and sound environments were developed with three-dimensional displacement maps. In these immersive experiences, the viewer can enter, walk, and even go through the three-dimensional textures of the microscopic composition of each tear.

What does the future hold for Lacrimosa?

I will continue to collect and photograph tear samples. At the same time, I am starting to work on the idea of a photobook with a collection of the entire production since 1998, more than a hundred tears. And, of course, when the COVID-19 pandemic allows it, Lacrimosa will be seen again at festivals and exhibitions.

A bright orange image with a few iridescent-looking circles that reflect shades of blue and green.
ALL1 (1999) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC
Branching crystalline shape emerging from a center point, like a snowflake.
TLL1 (1999) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC
Shades of blue and green, like the ocean. One larger spherical shape hovers at the bottom, with branching crystal patterns running horizontally through the center.
MG5 (2019) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

For more by Sasha R. Gregor, visit his website, Instagram, or Facebook.

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Featured image: EG1 (1999) by Sasha R. Gregor, chromogenic print 90 x 90 cm, edition of 5, photomicrograph 2000x with Nomarsky DIC

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About the Author
McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie is a fledgling science communicator working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has a background in neuroscience, and was a research assistant at the University of Virginia and a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health. After years of thinking she’d become a neuroscience researcher, she discovered her passion for sharing science with others. That finding, in combination with her lifelong dabbling in the arts, led her to write for Art the Science's blog. In her free time, she can be found volunteering with the Smithsonian Associates studio arts classes, trying new foods, and wandering around her home of Washington, D.C. Twitter: @meprillaman