Beneath a Microscope, Human Tears Are Just as Unique as Fingerprints

In a project called Topography of Tears, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher spent a few years collecting, examining and photographing more than 100 dried tears from both herself and various volunteers, including a newborn baby.

Fisher’s photos act as an atlas to a person’s spirit, showing how different emotions, such as happiness or sorrow, can alter the topography of each tear shed. Strangely enough, on the microscopic level human tears are just as unique as fingerprints. In addition to biological substances (including oils, antibodies and enzymes), tears also contain an abundance of distinct molecules.

She explains the project below:

The project began in a period of personal change, loss, and copious tears. One day I wondered if my tears of grief would look any different from my tears of happiness & I set out to explore them up close.

On a scientific level, tears are separated into three types, based on their origin. Tears of sorrow and joy are considered psychic tears, which are set off by intense positive or negative emotions. These kind were found to contain protein-based hormones such as the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under trauma.

Basal tears are primarily released in minute quantities in order to keep the cornea lubricated, and our reflex tears are produced when our eyes come in contact with a nuisance, like onion vapors or dust.

People cry for all sorts of reasons, and Fisher was able to incorporate many of them in Topography of Tears, including those shed during uncontrollable fits of laughter, while yawning and even chopping up onions.

Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger and as complex as a rite of passage. It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.

Check out her fascinating work in the slideshow above.

Image Credit: Rose-Lynn Fisher