One day photographer Rosa-Lynn Fisher wondered if the tears she shed from grief looked any different from her tears of happiness. She began to study them under a microscope and what she discovered was fascinating! Her basal tears (tears the body produces to lubricate our eyes) were very different compared to the tears that flow when we are cutting onions.
Like a drop of ocean water each tiny tear drop carries a microcosm of human experience. Her collection of photos is called The Topography of Tears.
Tears from laughing until crying
Tears of change
Tears of grief
Tears from onions
Tears of timeless reunion
Tears of ending and beginning
Tears of momentum, redirected
Tears of release
Tears of possibility and hope
Tears of elation at a liminal moment
Tears of remembrance
There are three types of tears: basal, reflex, and psychic (emotional). Joseph Stromberg of the Smithsonian’s Collage of Arts and Sciences explained that all tears contain biological substances including oils, antibodies, and enzymes and salt water. Different types of tears have distinct molecules. Emotional tears have protein-based hormones including the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, which is a natural painkiller that is released when we are stressed. Also, the tears seen under the microscope are crystallized and can lead to various shapes and forms. So even psychic tears with the same chemical makeup can look very different. Fisher said, “There are so many variables—there’s the chemistry, the viscosity, the setting, the evaporation rate and the settings of the microscope.”