Macro Photography

Human Tooth Studies: Last Batch! by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

After a busy Halloween season filled with lots of art shows and exciting publications, I’m now finally getting back to producing new content. Here are the last few images in my ongoing studies of human teeth; the full set of images of this type is now complete. I have plans to return to teeth as a subject matter, but my forthcoming work will break from the formula that I’ve used in my gallery Dentata so far. Enjoy!

New Teeth Photos! by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

My latest batch of photos of human teeth is now complete and has been added to my gallery Dentata.  Last time I spoke a bit about how these new works slot into the general theme of Memento Mori that permeates all of my creative output in one way or another.  Since I plan to return to this subject several more times in future blog posts, I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit for this update and instead talk a bit about the technical aspects of what goes into photos like this.

Extreme close-up photos like those in my galleries Inside and Dentata are usually called "macro" photography by camera nerds, and there are a number of technical complications associated to this genre.  First off, you either need a specialty lens, or else extension tubes to even be able to focus at such close range to the subject.  (I've used both approaches in my career; currently I'm shooting on a 60mm 2:1 macro lens but if you're on a budget then extension tubes plus prime normal lens is a great hack.)

The most interesting technical issue surrounding close-up work is the problem of depth of focus.  When you shoot at high magnification you will end up extremely shallow depth of field for pretty much any choice of aperture, meaning that only a teeny tiny sliver of the image will actually be in sharp focus.  If you like that look then fine, enjoy it, but I personally don't care for that aesthetic at all.  (I've never understood the fixation some photographers have on bokeh; to my mind this look is way overdone and is often used as a crutch by lazy photographers who try and clean up a messy composition by blurring out all the distracting crap in the background rather than taking the time to compose a simple shot free of distractions in the first place.)  To circumvent this 'problem' I will typically take 50-100 exposures for each image, with each exposure having a slightly different focal point.  Then these images need to be stacked and blended together in Photoshop to produce the kinds of shots I like, which are sharp and in-focus across all (or at least most) of the subject. 

Aside from the extra computing and shooting time needed for this approach there are other issues.  Getting close-up tends to cut down on the light, so to get a good image you'll need slow shutter speeds.  Of course, this means everything needs to be locked down on a tripod (which is also necessary because of the stacking and shallow depth of field).  All told images like this take about an hour each to shoot, plus 1-2 hours of editing time to get the focus stacking and aesthetic editing done correctly.  So...  It's a bit labour intensive.  But I love the results.  Enjoy!

New Project: Human Teeth by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

I've been hard at work on some new material over the last while. Here's a sneak peak, showing some preliminary work in progress from my studies of human teeth. This project slots somewhat nicely into my general fascination with portraiture of the dead and, indeed, I've long been fascinated by teeth. There's a certain intimacy about doing this kind of close-up work with something that used to be a part of a person. I love getting up close and personal with all the little markers of scum and wear and decay; those tiny little details that might be invisible under normal viewing conditions and that mark the passage of time. Lots more to come. In the meantime: enjoy the tooth decay!

By the way: if there's anybody out there with some dentistry expertise who can help me identify these teeth, please send me a PM. Ultimately there will be about a dozen distinct teeth in the gallery -- with multiple views of each -- and I'd eventually love to have the correct technical names attached to each image. If anybody is interested in helping me out here please send me a message, I will repay your kindness as best I can.

Decaying Mountains: Close-Up Views of The Lamb's Teeth by Neal Auch

"My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions." --James Joyce
 

These two images are the last of my close-up studies of the lamb's head, this time focusing on the teeth.  In my last post I mused on the similarity between close-up work and landscape photography.  To me, these images seem to suggest mountain ranges.  Part of what's so fascinating about photographing teeth is getting to capture the wear and decay and scum that come along for the ride with the daily ritual of eating.  I have plans to revisit this same idea from a more human perspective in the near future, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime: enjoy the weirdo teeth mountain range imagery! 

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Strange Landscapes: Close-Up Views of the Lamb's Mouth by Neal Auch

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“I wanted to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world.” ― Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers

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This series of images continues with my studies of the lamb's head. All of these shots explore textures and structures in the beast's mouth (mostly tongue and lips).

I find it interesting to bounce back and forth between still life and macro photography since, although I treat the same subject matter in both cases, these two genres of photography are almost perfectly opposite. In still life everything is rather literal, and the game is all about composition and lighting. Close up work is quite different: composition is almost nonexistent in some of these shots, and the lighting is almost always straightforward. Instead, everything is about abstraction and the focus is all about technical stuff in post-production (focus stacking, etc). I'm sure I'm not the first photographer to note an analogy between close-up work and landscape photography, but it does seem very apt in terms of both the final results and also the creative process. (For whatever reason my impression is that landscape photographers seems more interested in exploring the breadth of their subject, but that's a rant for another day...) Anyway, enjoy the weirdo close-up lamb mouth imagery!

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Diseased Flesh: Close-Up Views of Sores on Chicken Feet by Neal Auch

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"I know what the disease wants." --Seth Brundle, dialogue from Cronenburg's The Fly (1986)

DISCLAIMER:  I have been doing this project long enough to know that a significant fraction of my viewers are interested in the aesthetics of my work, but rather less interested in my concerns about the ethics of eating animals.  And that's absolutely great and a perfectly valid way to interact with the work; I think that all art is open to interpretation and that the audience's interpretation(s) should have no priority over those of the artist themselves.  In discussing my work I'm faced with a bit of a tightrope to walk: on the one hand I don't want to obfuscate my own motivations in making this work, while on the other hand I am aware that there's a danger of alienating members of my audience who don't share my concerns about factory farming.  So I wanted to preface this post with a bit of a disclaimer: while I try to avoid coming off as preachy, the subject of these images is quite impossible to discuss without being kind of a huge bummer about the meat industry.  So if that's not something you're into, you might want to skip this particular set of images.  In the next post I promise I'll have some cool creepy shots of teeth that look like mountain ranges.  But for those of you who are into this kind of thing...

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“What the meat industry figured out is that you don't need healthy animals to make a profit. Sick animals are more profitable...  Factory farms calculate how close to death they can keep animals without killing them."  --Jonathan Safran Foer, from Eating Animals

The animals that we consume are sick, but for the most part this ugliness remains hidden from the consumer.  Part of the reason I'm so fascinated by chicken's feet is that they provide a rare example of a food product where sores and deformities and disease markers are easy to see.  These images continue with my ongoing studies of the various visible sores that present on commercially available chicken feet.  It's worth noting that I do not make any special effort to get my hands on diseased animal organs, these kinds of sores are very common.

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The more I look at these things the more visually interesting I find them.  The colours are incredible: that contrast between the deep black at the heart of the sore and the weird yellow skin sloughing off and the pale healthy flesh that surrounds it all.  I have struggled with what to do about that yellow flesh, in particular.  It is such a vibrant colour that it almost looks oversaturated and I'm tempted to dial back the saturation on that particular channel to keep the image from looking too cartoonish.  But, at the same time, this really is the colour of that flesh.  Enjoy!

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A Close-Up View of the Lamb's Eye by Neal Auch

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"Thus, two globes of equal size and consistency had suddenly been propelled in opposite directions at once.  One, the white ball of the bull, had been thrust into the 'pink and dark' cunt that Simone had bared in the crowd; the other, a human eye, had spurted from Granero's head with the same force as a bundle of innards from a belly.  This coincidence, tied to death and to a sort of urinary liquefaction of the sky, first brought us back to Marcelle in a moment that was so brief and almost insubstantial, yet so uneasily vivid that I stepped forward like a sleepwalker as though about to touch her at eye level."  --Bataille, from Story of the Eye

After having focused on still life composition so much of late, I wanted to revisit my old love of close-up (macro) photography.  The first subject that came to my mind was the lamb's eye, something that I have photographed before but felt merited another investigation.  In the image above I wanted to emphasize the strange somewhat deflated look these eyes take on in death.  In contemplating the strange shape of the dead creature's eye I was reminded of George Bataille's stunning novel, Story of the Eye, and his fixation on sexual arousal surrounding various globe-like elements (the sun, the egg, the bull's testes, the eye of Granero the bullfighter, and the eye of the murdered priest).  I could write endlessly about Bataille's wonderfully transgressive and inscrutable erotic fiction, but that would take us a bit off the topic at hand and, in any case, is probably above my pay grade since I have no special qualifications as a book reviewer or literary scholar.  (Of course this complete lack of qualifications hasn't previously stopped me from posting book reviews and musing about literature, so perhaps I'll revisit this topic again soon.)

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For the above image I decided to focus my attention away from the globe of the eye -- that strange deflated shape that would have interested Bataille so much -- and instead on the boney structure of the eye socket.  I love these strange little ridges and bumps and the texture of the flesh.  Enjoy!

New Marco Photography: Pig Head & Black Chicken by Neal Auch

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I've added some new close-up images to my gallery Inside!  First off, I had a chance to revisit the weird double-toe of the black chicken, pictured above.  I've shot black chicken parts several times before, and I think that this is probably the most technically challenging subject I've considered for this project.  Of course, there are all the usual complications of macro photography (shallow depth of field, stabilization, focus stacking, etc) but the most difficult obstacle to overcome here is the colour of the subject.  The skin of Silkie chicken of very nearly pure black and I wanted to shoot a low key dark image against black background.  It is extremely tricky to figure out how to light a black subject on a black background and still end up with an image that's clear and coherent.  It also doesn't help that the camera's light meter is pretty much useless in a situation like this; the camera wants to expose everything to mid-tone grey, which would mean drastically overexposing an image like this one.

Next I turned my attention to the eye of the pig.  This is my second time working with pig head, but my first time doing close-up work on that particular subject.  I find that there's something eerily human about pig eyes.  I don't know if it's the skin tone or the colour of the iris or what, but to me that first image looks oddly human.  For the second shot I peeled the pig's face off, revealing the muscle and flesh below, for a shot that feels (to me at least) much less human.

Finally I did some work with the pig's teeth.  The first image is the pig's molars; these reminded me a bit of a mountain range, so I opted for a 16:9 crop to emphasize that panoramic landscape-y feel.  The second shot is the front teeth of the pig, less majestic so I opted for the 2:3 aspect ratio that's pretty much the norm for my close-up work.

I have some exciting news and also more images of the pig's head are coming soon!  In the meantime, enjoy!  

New Macro Photography by Neal Auch

I've added some new macro images to my Inside gallery.  For this last session I focused on two subjects: pig intestines and chicken feet.  The former I've tried to use for close-up work several times in the past but without much success; I just ended up with a lot of nondescript pale wrinkly looking stuff.  It turns out that the solution is to move further down the digestive tract: the large intestine makes for a more visually interesting subject than does the small intestine.  Enjoy!

New Macro Photography: Seafood by Neal Auch

My artistic output has been a bit scarce over the last month or so as my spouse and I have been adjusting to life with our newborn daughter.  We've finally started to get some semblance of a routine established and last week I managed to find an afternoon to get into the studio and work on some new macro photography.  I've put off shooting seafood for a long time now, mostly because slimy things are extremely tricky to light.  For this first experiment I limited myself to two subjects: an octopus and a soft-shelled blue crab.  I've added my favourite images from the session to my Inside gallery.  Enjoy!

New Macro Photography by Neal Auch

I've added some new close-up shots to my gallery Inside.  The first image, previewed above, is a close-up view of the thumb of a black chicken.  (Black chickens -- also called Silkie -- are totally a thing that exists, it turns out.)  When I first noticed this weird double toenail I assumed it was a malformation of some kind; I've spent enough time looking a chicken feet up close to know that sores, defects, and other disease markers are pretty common on the meat we purchase.  However, after a quick search on google it turns out that Silkie chicken feet just naturally look like that.  This beast is quickly becoming my favourite kind of chicken.

The remaining shots are all close-up views of various parts of a lamb's head.  In order: the teeth, the nose cavity (sawed open to reveal the bone structure), the base of the skull, and the ear cavity (ear removed). 

Enjoy!

New Macro Photography by Neal Auch

I'm super excited to be heading off to Minneapolis in a few days, where I will be catching up with some old friends, may of whom I haven't seen in person since in the days when I lived in a filthy run-down bachelor flat in Dinkytown.  The building was a mess and there were fraternities everywhere in that neighbourhood.  It turns out that American undergraduate college life is exactly as portrayed in Hollywood movies.  When the weather was nice bros would hang out on lawns, toss footballs at each other, and drink beer through a funnel while their girlfriends cheered them on and drank sugary pink stuff.  The whole thing was surreal.  (Dear friends in the US: you really should know how singular this kind of college experience is; getting a higher education is nothing like that elsewhere in the world.)  I'll probably post some shots from around the city when I get back.  In the meantime, please do enjoy this latest batch of macro photography.  In order, we have: the eye of a lamb, the lamb's brain (which made the most delightful "schlup" sound as I extracted it from the skull with my thumb), the eye of a black chicken (these are a thing that exists, it turns out), and two extremely close-up views of a pig ear.

New Macro Photography by Neal Auch

When you purchase chicken feet from the butcher it's not uncommon to find sores and abscesses.  (This is not particularly surprising if you know anything about how chickens are farmed.)  Normally I avoid using those feet in any of my photography, or else I remove the blemishes in photoshop.  For these shots (recently added to my gallery Inside) I decided to go the opposite route: getting up close and intimate to present a macro view of the sores on a couple of feet from a recent purchase.  Enjoy!