“10-9”: The mystery of everyday life

The astonishing images that modern microscopes provide us with reveal an invisible universe with a complexity so far beyond our expectations that it is difficult to imagine. In the series “10-9,” the title of which refers to the unit of measure of light, the nanometer (“10-9” meter = 0,000000001 meter = 1 nanometer), Sasha R. Gregor photographs the materials that make up our everyday world, like table salt, hairspray, drops of beer and his own fingerprint, magnifying them up to 6000 times in order to put the supposed banality of these apparently insignificant things to the test, all as part of his larger interest in glorifying everyday objects.

For a scientist specializing in matter, whose mind would be trained to decode images like these, the photos would have a very clear meaning, offering up accurate information on the object pictured and revealing its innermost structure. However, for the great majority of onlookers, laymen without expertise in the subject, the change in scale brings with it a total loss of frame of reference, turning these ordinary objects, which we have all seen hundreds of times because we have them in our homes, into strange, unrecognizable forms, taking on the appearance of original drawings or abstract paintings. However, the fact that they are photographs brings with it an interesting paradox, one that is directly linked to the epistemological status of photography and its  unique subordination to the representation of reality.

It is well known that photography consists of the imprint of reflected light from the surface of the photographed object, a fact that inevitably implies the real presence of this object before the camera, unless the photographer has manipulated the image in some way. In a sense a photograph can be seen as a certificate of existence produced by a machine, thanks to the power of optics and chemistry working together. This fact turns photography’s representations into highly iconic images, traditionally associated with objectivity and accuracy, which reinforce the medium’s epistemic nature when it comes into contact with the scientific method.

This explains why, when we look upon Sasha R. Gregor’s photomicrography, we have before us the representation of what we know corresponds to a world that is invisible to the naked eye, but nonetheless real. We understand that they are not mere figments of the imagination, and this further piques our interest in them, as they transport us to a territory beyond what our perceptive abilities allow us to access. However, via a change in the epistemological context, these beautiful images become something more than the data they provide us with, moving from the realm of scientific research to that of visual art.

The complexity of the pictures’ cognitive status, located like photography itself somewhere between art and science, then, becomes the key to interpreting them. In addition to their unquestionable heuristic value, they are able to spark emotional aesthetic reactions, creating tension between these two poles. They transmit their author’s personal vision, making them no longer just scientific documents. Their colors, rhythms and contrasts all play fundamental roles, opening the doors to a world that might seem far removed from our own, but that in fact could not be more ordinary or closer at hand. The mysterious shapes the pictures reveal are able to awaken the viewer’s symbolic imagination, offering a new mode of perception and a way of looking that is free of the tedious superficiality of cliché.

Ricard Guixà

Barcelona 2015