Crying is natural—humans do it, even elephants do it—yet it’s often considered a sign of weakness. Dutch photographer Maurice Mikkers wants to change our perception of crying by capturing micrographs of crystallized tears. Additionally, he wanted to test out whether tears look different depending on whether they’re basal (tears that are produced in order to lubricate the eye), reflex (the kind that occur when your eyes are irritated), or psychic (relating to emotional stress).

For his project, “Imaginarium of Tears,” he asked some of his friends to choose a way to cry—either from cutting onions, eating hot peppers, looking into a fan, or as an emotional response to something sad or happy. Mikkers sucked up the tears in a micropipette then set them on a slide to crystallize.

In a piece on Medium, Mikkers wrote that while there were differences in composition between the tears he observed under the microscope, those differences had nothing to do with the reason behind the tears.  “Never the less,” he wrote, “they are beautiful to look at.” 

Below are two images from each tear category. More micrographs are available on his Medium post. 

Reflex tear from cutting white onions 

Reflex tear from cutting white onions 

Psychic tear from forced emotional response 

Psychic tear from forced emotional response 

Basal tear from looking in a fan for a few minutes 

Basal tear from looking in a fan for a few minutes 



All photos courtesy of Maurice Mikkers

[h/t Laughing Squid]