R O S E - L Y N N   F I S H E R    

The Topography of Tears is a visual investigation of tears that I photographed through an optical standard light microscope - a vintage Zeiss from the late 1960's or 70's, mounted with a digital microscopy camera.

I started this project in 2008 during a period marked by grief. In my abundant supply of tears, I became curious about the very nature of tears. What do tears really look? Would joy look the same as sorrow? I set out to see what I would find by looking at my tears through my microscope. The microscope provided the means to examine my tears and beyond that, to visually evoke the unseen realm of my emotions.

I photographed a range of emotional tears, mainly my own whenever I cried, along with tears from others young and old. I saved my tears onto glass slides, either allowing them to evaporate, or be compressed between glass slide and a thinner glass slip cover. The results of each approach were equally interesting to me. The air-dried tears revealed their organic structure, so similar to natural structures at every scale in nature.
The images produced by compressed tears often evoked a sense of place, like aerial views of emotional terrain.

As a counterpoint to emotional tears I also saved the tears when my eyes watered, as well as those produced by chopping onions- later learning that onion and other irritant reflex tears have less proteins than emotional tears.

Every tear that I looked at under the microscope had its own visual qualities, its own sort of “signature” whether it was from the same emotion or different emotions. Tears of grief and tears of joy could not be generalized or categorized by their visual pattern. For example, tears of grief could look very different from each other, even when they were shed in the same moment. Also, like a landscape, different areas of a tear examined under a microscope could look different from one region to another.

Although the empirical nature of tears is a composition of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears revealed to me a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. To me this series is like an ephemeral atlas.

Many variables influence the visual diversity among these images: whether the tear was air-dried or compressed, the volume of tear fluid I saved on a slide, chemical/biological variations, microscope and camera settings, and how I process and print the photograph. Many other variables are not yet understood.

A scientific study was not the point of my exploration, nor my field of endeavor. To the contrary, my original question set me on a quest, and led me to consider tears at an intangible level, to reflect on the poetry of life, and the unexpected ways we gain deeper knowing. And what tears mean to our evolving awareness about being human, cultivating empathy, compassion.

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. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Wordless and spontaneous, they release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis, intractable resistance short-circuited. Shedding tears, shedding old skin.

While my project began at the most personal level, The Topography of Tears ultimately became a contemplation on what connects us all in a most essential way - as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.

© Rose-Lynn Fisher 2022
all rights reserved


The Topography of Tears

Bellevue Literary Press, publisher

Craig Krull Gallery


Links to Selected Press
Online, Print & Blogs:

Collaboration DARQUER LACE

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center


The Marginalian
(aka BrainPickings)

The New Yorker

Smithsonian Magazine

Harper's Magazine

Boston Globe

Zeit Wissen Magazine (Germany)

Die Welt (Germany)

Psychologie Heute (Germany)

Y-Mag (Germany)

Galileo TV (Germany)

Paris Match (France)

ArtSixMic (France)

Palais de Tokyo (France)

Madame Le Figaro (France)

Polka Magazine (France)

Laboratoire du Geste (France)

Art Critique (France)

The Culturist

Observatoire de L'Art Contemporain (France)

Revue Feuilleton (France)

CBC Arts

LIFE Magazine China

B+W Photography (UK)


Barns Worth Burning

Trouw (NL)

De Telegraaf (NL)

Vogue (Spain)

Feature Shoot



Amateur Photographer (UK)

Elizabeth Avedon Journal

GUP Magazine (NL)


PRI / Studio 360

TiP - Balmond Studio (UK)

The Guardian (UK)

The Paris Review

The Outpost (Lebanon)

De Gids (Netherlands)

Esquire Russia

Yorokobu (Spain) 2

Yorokobu (Spain) 1


British Cinematographer (UK)

In Vivo Magazine (Switzerland)

Galileo (Italy)

Design Observer

The Good Men Project


The Telegraph (UK)

Medical Daily

Happinez (NL)

Southwest the Magazine


Big Think

The Swaddle (India)

Delo (Slovenia)

El Mundo (Spain)

Balthazare Magazine (France)

De Redactie (Belgium)

YLE News (Finland)

Garbo (Romania)

O Globo (Brazil)

Spaghetti Mag. (Italy)


Popular Science blog

The Daily Meal

Times of Malta




MSNBC Maddow blog/WeekGeek

BBC Taster (online)

Lifo (Greece)

ABC (Spain)

La Nacion (Argentina)

Kindred Subjects

John Culbert - Geometry of tears




































































































© Rose-Lynn Fisher all rights reserved


The Topography of Tears
published by Bellevue Literary Press link

Forewords by William Frey II, PhD + Ann Lauterbach

Thankful for exactly this © 2017 Rose-Lynn Fisher

What it meant long after a time forgotten © 2013 Rose-Lynn Fisher

After the sun came the tears © 2016 Rose-Lynn Fisher

The irrefutable © 2012 Rose-Lynn Fisher

In the end it didn't matter #65 © 2015 Rose-Lynn Fisher

The brevity of time (out of order) losing you © 2011 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Catharsis © 2010 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Tears of change © 2008 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Momentum, redirected © 2008 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Takeoff © 2016 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Redemption © 2015 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Compassion © 2015 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Go! (forth) © 2015 Rose-Lynn Fisher

The pull between attachment and release © 2011 Rose-Lynn Fisher

What couldn't be fixed © 2008 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Overwhelm © 2015 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Tears of elation at a liminal moment © 2013 Rose-Lynn Fisher

Link to Books

Link to Tears and Lace

Any questions, please email me at: topographyoftears@gmail.com