What do you see in these images? A palm-frond jungle? Bright bird feathers? Taking the Rorschach test that is Peter Woitschikowski’s photomicrography, viewers often compare the shapes with the natural world. But he asks them to embrace the abstract instead—to see something entirely new. “The hope is to turn the fantasy on,” he says.
In the 1980s, Woitschikowski, who lives in Germany, bought a microscope after seeing a magazine spread of microcrystal photography. He wanted to reveal this wondrous world that’s invisible to the unaided eye. The shapes are formed on glass lab plates by heating chemicals, such as acetaminophen, or mixing them with water or alcohol. As the substances cool or dry, crystals appear. When illuminated by polarized light, some seem to leap into a ballet of form and color.
The process is so delicate that even slight vibrations can ruin it. That’s why Woitschikowski uses a remote shutter trigger and works late at night when vehicle traffic outside his studio has subsided. “It’s a great experiment,” he says. “You don’t know what you’ll see when you begin.”