“The Microscopic Structure of Dried Human Tears” Story Critique

For my Digital Storytelling class at CU Denver I chose the focal theme of grief. The variety of emotions entrenched in grief and that are born of grief led me to critique The Microscopic Structure of Dried Human Tears by Joseph Stromberg.

The Microscopic Structure of Dried Human Tears, explains and evaluates a fascinating set images of human tears produced under different emotions ranging from joyful reunions, to loss, and even onion-induced tears by photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher. She collected and photographed more than 100 tear samples from both herself and volunteers. The variety of results were astonishing.

I will be critiquing this story by Joseph Stromberg based upon three traits from the Lankshear and Knobel’s Appendix: Some popular everyday remix practices.

  1. Expressing a journalistic identity—having something to say that appeals to others
  2. Expressing an identity as an artist—being able to write
  3. Developing artistic skills—developing a personal “style” that is nonetheless in keeping with the original texts/images

Expressing a journalistic identity—having something to say that appeals to others

Most often tears indicate sadness, which is why this article caught my eye. As I read more of Stromberg’s work, I realized all the emotions captured in Fisher’s photographs were feelings I have experienced. I also learned that each tear carries its own unique story. Stromberg’s expression of his journalist identity appealed to my humanity and appreciation for the complexity of our design.

Expressing an identity as an artist—being able to write

Stromberg eloquently weaves together the science behind emotions. He remixes the photographed images into a story that begins with creating context around Fisher’s identity. After Stromberg explains Fisher’s artistic portfolio and how her idea of the pictures emerged, he writes about the science behind the images. Stromberg elaborates on the tear samples, the scanning electron microscope, different types of tears, and hormones in the tears. The story culminates on patterns that emerged and how they reflected the larger world. Stromberg absolutely expresses his identity as an excellent writer.

Developing artistic skills—developing a personal “style” that is nonetheless in keeping with the original texts/images

In this story, Stromberg showcases his artistry as a journalist by digging up interesting facts about Fisher’s original vision and images. He quotes her beautiful analogy of tears as being, “aerial views of emotion terrain.” He further quotes her insight that, “it’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.”


  • Its amazing the will power and patience it would take to photograph 100 tears from different situations?! That is something I appreciate in photographers, they take their time to get their art correct. Its a science. I just wish I had that determination 🙂
    I wonder how the artist compiled the photos? How did they make their photos microscopic and THEN compile them. Interesting technique. I’m not big into photography so maybe there is a program out there that I’m not aware of.

    Great share! Interesting.

  • What a great story and remix in it’s own right. Combining science with art is always appealing to me. I like the appreciation of the science, like the variables involved to create different types of dried tears. And the various chemicals released during different types of emotional expressions resulting in tears. The pictures also have a wonderful artistic quality and a sense of grand scale although they are very small. It looks like they can be photographs from google earth! I also like how this all ties into your theme and helps us appreciate the incredible complexity of grief through the complexities of tears alone. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks For your feedback Kirk. I’m finding my focal theme of grief to be a little cumbersome at times. I’m trying to figure out how to shift it or transition from grief to a place of hope. I’m open to any ideas 🙂

  • Susannah this is amazing! Thanks for sharing. Your post gave the opportunity to learn about the photographer job and also opened for me a new way to think about our critique reflection. I think you did a great job finding a pertinent relationship between the story and the traits you selected. This story also brought to mind an almost forgotten beautiful moment during my childhood when I was crying in my mom’s work (She’s a microbiologist) and she took one tear and show me it under the microscope… I was just fascinated and try to draw it for her… the best way to turn tears into big smile : )

  • Interesting read. Some people have truly amazing perspectives on the world around them. Finding an artistic value to a tear and then spending time, time and a lot of patience, to gather images of all kinds of tears and then present them as art is just amazing.

  • Hi Susannah,
    It was interesting to think of a review as a remix. I read Stromberg’s article as a basic, competent review, written for a magazine, of a book of images. Your critique led me to re-examine the relationship between reviewer and reviewee, as it were, and to see that a review is, in a necessary sense, a remix. Very cool, and nice work. Also a really interesting article about an unusual photo project.

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