Humans cry for a million different reasons. It can be hard to keep the tears from flowing at the end of a movie that tugs at your heartstrings, of course, but we can also cry just as easily from laughing too hard, chopping onions, or as every woman going through a crippling bout of PMS can affirm, for no apparent reason at all. Science backs this idea that we already intrinsically know to be true, recognizing that while people may be capable of producing tears for a wide variety of reasons, all of our waterworks can be easily categorized into three distinct groups: basal, reflex, and emotional tears.
Basal tears are those that simply lubricate the eye and help keep it clear of dust. Reflex are, as the name implies, a purely biological reaction to the presence of external irritants, such as pepper spray or those aforementioned pesky chopped onions. And obviously, emotional is our tears' most common form, a natural response to feelings that can range from anger to pleasure to stress. But while this classification of crying makes our weeping seem totally understood and commonplace, Danish photographer Maurice Mikkers has proven through his work that there’s far more to tears than first meets the eye.
After learning about the various types of tears people create, Mikkers decided he wanted to take a closer look for himself, so he decided to conduct a little experiment. He invited a group of friends over for a literal pity party, allowing guests to choose from a number of means to make themselves cry. Partygoers were allowed to choose between cutting onions, eating hot peppers, looking into a fan, or producing authentic tears from a moment of happiness or sadness. The photographer then collected those tears via a micropipet, placing each one on a slide and allowing it to crystalize and become stable. He then photographed each individual drop under a powerful microscope and the results were nothing short of breathtaking.
It turns out, each crystalized tear is just like a snowflake, completely unique, forming a radically different structure and appearance. The images look more like frostbitten jellyfish floating through a dark sea or infinitesimal galaxies under the siege of an Ice Age rather than something humans are capable of producing. The tears are both awe-inspiring and oddly haunting, an almost otherworldly result that feels at once viscerally personal and completely estranged.
Mikkers aims to keep expanding his current collection of tears, hoping to one day share this experience with the masses by putting on a live exhibition where he can immediately show people the stunning beauty that can be found within their own sobs. Writing on his Medium blog, the photographer stresses, “Even if there is no scientifically difference, value or information generated out of it, for me this project is all about showing the volunteers the beauty of their own tears.”