Ballet Infusoriae: MicroChoreography

As we experience unprecedented environmental impacts from climate change, microbes rapidly adapt to their surrounding conditions faster than other organisms. Because microbes control biogeochemical cycling of elements essential for life, this impacts every ecosystem on earth. In addition, these changes alter the transmission of plant, animal, and human disease.

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of pond water from my garden showing photosynthetic microorganisms as they respond to light (above).

Observed under a microscope in real-time its difficult to discern purpose in the movements of the infusoria (an old and poetic term for microorganisms) so I use two processes to reveal this and to add an important non-scientific aesthetic to the works. The first process uses time-lapse at 200-times magnification to reveal the complex movements and interactions of the microbes and to uncover a complex and elegant microscopic ballet. Here the photographic microbes accumulate in the field of view as they respond to, and are attracted to, the light that I use to illuminate them for observation. In one sense here,  I am very much reminded of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the fact that the act of observation affects the particle being observed, in that the microbes here are responding to the light the I use to observe them. In another sense, this phototactic, response gives me the opportunity to choreograph the movement of this massively important domain of life.

The second process that I’ve developed for observing microorganisms, rather than recording micro-videos in real-time, records instead the paths taken by microscopic creatures under the microscope. The images generated, result from the accumulation of the activity tracks of these usually invisible life forms and reveal the hugely complicated dynamic of their manifold activities and interactions. The process is transformative, in that it converts the mundane and disregarded, into something remarkable, not by changing it, but by revealing another level of reality that is usually withheld from us. In the images below I have choreographed the movement of photosynthetic infusoria by changing the direction of the source of light (to the left of the images below) and recorded their activity (over a period of 19 minutes)  as they move towards it and away from darkness.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 26.77 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 26.29 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 26.28 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 25.97 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 37.94 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 30.51 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 25.87 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 36.61 second exposure.

 

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