Gems have the ability to command a person’s gaze the way nothing else on Earth has the power to do. For millennia, these precious stones have played a significant role in human culture. Whether given away as tokens of love and affection, kept as symbols of wealth and power, or used within folklore and mythology, they’ve had the capacity to evoke mystery and intrigue.
Danny J. Sanchez became captivated by the splendor of gemstones and minerals at a very early age. He would knock open any rock he could find in hopes that there’d be something wonderful inside, such as quartz, calcite or amethyst crystals. There was always a treasure just waiting to be discovered–a kaleidoscopic display of dazzling hues.
“Ever since I can remember, I was mesmerized by anything shiny and transparent. From my mother’s costume jewelry to beach glass to prisms for playing with light. Any material that takes light and plays with it, I’m into it,” explains the Los Angeles-based gemologist and artist.
Sanchez specializes in photomicrography, which is basically taking a picture of something through a microscope. For him, it just so happens to be gems.
While studying at the Gemological Institute of America, he saw the photomicrographs of gemstone inclusions (materials that get trapped inside a mineral during its formation) taken by John Koivula and instantly knew this was the passion he wanted to pursue–one that would take years to master and achieve.
“I’ve been mining locally here in California but that’s it. Most of the material I currently shoot is from Brazil because of the good relationships I have with the vendors down there, as well as the variety of gems that come from those mines,” he says. “Also, I really haven’t had the chance to explore the world like I’ve wanted to, yet.”
These days, he spends countless hours searching for and photographing specimens to give people a breathtaking, microscopic look at nature’s handiwork. Sanchez is able to capture intricacies that are far too small for the naked eye to perceive, details that often go unnoticed. In his image of Golden Rutile in Quartz, the gemstone’s landscape appears to be the magic kingdom of Fantasia from The Neverending Story.
Photomicrography is certainly not known for being an art form but I think more and more people are becoming aware of it now that the cost of the hardware is coming down.
The most unforgettable experience he has had working in this exceptional field was when he realized that he wasn’t shooting just the particular inclusion within the stone, but the entire environment.
“There’s a development process called stacking that all my images must go through. There was one image that, once it processed, took my breath away. It was the Mountains in Quartz piece. I knew I had it lit correctly but when it finally developed, I think I sat there staring for at least two minutes,” Sanchez recalls.
Every single time he looks through a microscope at the interiors of gemstones, he still gets excited.
“My imagination goes wild in there, as if I’m travelling to these alien places. It’s very easy to continue doing what I’m doing when that’s the case, he adds. “Opals are what typically just cry out for my type of photography. They’re really special and they each have their own personality. It makes for a real challenge but also a real joy. Sometimes, I’ll spend a whole day setting up a shot and talking all the photos. If I’m happy with the results, it will take me several more nights to develop.”