Big collection of tiny specimens on display at the Micropolitan Museum
By Alan Brandon
December 6, 2009
As art museums go, the Micropolitan Museum has a very small collection. Literally. Presented by the Institute for the Promotion of the Less than One Millimetre, the Micropolitan Museum of Microscopic Art Forms is an online “portrait” collection of mini- and micro-organisms photographed through a microscope. Inside the virtual museum’s halls you can find a zooplankton family portrait next to the glowing image of a mother copepod posing with her children (Okay, her children are actually egg packages). Down the hall, a postmodern bloom of diatoms shares exhibit space with a Rubenesque polysiphonia cystocarps.
The Micropolitan Museum opened in 2002 and is the brainchild of micro-photography artist Wim van Egmond of the Netherlands. Hosted by the enthusiasts group Microscopy UK, the Micropolitan website is arranged as if it were an actual museum complete with a floor plan and various collections including the Freshwater collection, the Marine collection, the Insectarium, and the Botanical Garden. Each collection features an array of exhibits with titles such as “The Hall of Arthropods”, the “Water Flea Circus”, and the “Diatom Depot”.
Egmond, who started his career as a painter and photographer, uses a combination of old and new technology to produce his images of everything from rotifers to radiolarians. He creates the images for the museum using standard light microscopes and different types of lighting including bright field, dark field, phase contrast, differential interference contrast, and Rheinberg illumination. He uses these techniques to variously enhance contrast or to highlight an organism’s transparency. The images are shot on slide film and digitally.
In the Micropolitan’s Insect Portrait gallery, a series of bug close-ups examines insect anatomy by digitally stacking multiple images with varying lengths of focus. This process serves to provide an enhanced depth of field, and nightmares for the squeamish.
On the museum website, Egmond notes that all of his tiny subjects were photographed alive. By carefully preparing the microscope slides, Egmond is able to create their portraits without crushing or damaging the delicate specimens.
As an artist, Egmond created his own abstract images. But for the Micropolitan Museum collection he finds abstract beauty in the tiniest of forms provided by nature. In this way, Egmond says he has changed from being an artist to become a curator, with an entire collection that can fit on a microscope slide.