Zoom In: Microphotographer Elden Swart On Taking Jameson 100x Closer
You’ve seen the Jameson 100x Closer artworks, now meet the man who made them. The Jameson INDIE Channel chats to microscope-enthusiast, photographer and all-round gentleman Elden Swart about the process behind this project:
When we approached you and explained our idea, what was your first reaction?
I thought ‘how am I going to pull this one off?’ At the time I knew nothing about chemistry or how to crystallise whiskey. I know photography and I know microscopes, but this brief was so much bigger. Before I heard from you guys, I would never have even thought to look into something like this.
Did this project initiated a learning curve for you?
Big time. Many, many hours of studying and research went into this. As far as I know there has only ever been one other similar project, run by a guy with three doctorates behind his name and it took him about a year and half to do.
So it wasn’t just as simple as putting a drop underneath a microscope?
Not at all. You need a polarised light source. If you don’t have this you won’t get the vivid colours and it will just be plain and transparent liquid on a bright white background.
What were some of the other big challenges you faced in taking Jameson 100x Closer?
Whiskey isn’t instantly in crystal form, it takes some time for that to develop. You have to ‘farm’ the crystals. In total it took us about three to four months to get this right. Environment played a big role, and factors such as such heat and humidity affect the growth of the crystals. Half of the process is the nature of the crystal itself and the other half is what you do to it to bring it to life. So there was a lot of watching, waiting and tweaking. Eventually crystal grew in all their different colours and shapes. We got curious and started experimenting with different Jameson cocktails to see what kinds of crystals the different ingredients produce. The different cocktails produced vastly different crystals, which was interesting to watch.
You had a little advantage because your dad works in the field of microscopes, so you are familiar with this tool.
I’ve actually been working with microscopes since I was a very young. My dad put together a microscope with spare parts of broken microscopes, which he fixed and modified a bit. Through the years we built up a nice collection. Playing with microscopes became a hobby. There was a little stream near our house and my dad always said that stream is a zoo, so he took me out to get samples and we put them under a slide for inspection. It was so interesting, and still is. I spent many hours looking through a microscope for the fun of it. Then I fell in love with photography when my dad brought home the first Nikon camera ever produced…
Effectively it’s a similar thing looking at the world through a microscope and a camera lenses.
Funnily enough, one of the first thing we did with our digital camera was to mount it to the eye piece of a microscope so we could take picture of the diatoms and amoebas. Now I carry my camera everywhere I go. I’m particularly interested in macro and portraiture photography. I’ve tried landscape photography, but I don’t really have an eye for it.
Are there any other photographers or clubs that you know of that play with microphotography?
Microscopic photography is not really recreational, it’s more used for studying results such as strength testing. For example they’ll take a sample piece of metal that they were testing and put it under a microscope to see where the fractures were. Using a polarised light they can see different colours which indicates what kind of stress the metal was under.
Every year Nikon releases this calendar with a collection of the best photographs taken under a microscope. It’s very pretty, but it’s all centred around research not art. These microscopic photographs can be viewed in different ways. Scientists will see detailed information while some people who are inclined to art will print it and see it as a form of expression. That’s what makes this project interesting, everyone sees something differently. It’s all down to individual interpretation.
See more Jameson 100x Closer photographs here.
Watch a short film inspired by the concept of being brave enough to take a closer look here.
Print your own Jameson 100x Closer piece by downloading the hi-res artwork here.
Follow @JamesonSA on Instagram for more.