The winners of the 2011 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition have been announced. This year’s top honours go to Dr Igor Siwanowicz with a micrograph that demonstrates the beauty in “ugly”. When a small bug landed on Dr Siwanowiczâ€™s hand and began digging its mandibles into his skin, he didn’t swat it away.
Instead, he removed a tiny test tube from his pocket â€“ which he carries for occasions such as these â€“ and captured it as a potential subject for his photomicrography passion. This chance meeting with a Common Green Lacewing led to him being named the winner of the 2011 Nikon Small World competition. Meanwhile, popular voting remains open until Oct. 30.
“Traveling with a test tube (or bunch of them) falls under perfectly normal naturalistâ€™s behavior,” said Siwanowicz, who after studying protein crystallography found a career using his skills in confocal microscopy and invertebrate photography.
“I have several reasons to carry all sorts of receptacles with me at all times: I take photos of insects, and sometimes donâ€™t have a camera on my body.”
Using a technique he perfected while photographing fruit flies, Siwanowicz preserved the insect in formaldehyde, encased it in a pea-sized block of agar, then placed it in a microtome – a machine that slices the specimen into super-thin strips.
He dyed the slices to help emphasize certain parts of the bug’s anatomy, then created the final image, which was assembled as a photomosaic from six different pictures.
Thanks in part to the green lacewing larva’s formidable mandible, the award-winning picture makes the tiny insect look a powerful predator.
“Every life form provides unlimited abundance of exquisite designs and solutions (all of them non-copyrighted and royalty-free!), all along the scale from the level of an organism down to the realm of molecules,” said Siwanowicz.
35-year-old Siwanowicz, who mainly photographs insects, says he is proud of his ability to show beauty in animals that are commonly considered ugly.
“Usual evolutionary restraints don’t seem to apply within the realm of tiny animals, which is evident in the abundance and variety of often grotesque and utterly alien forms,” he told The Huffington Post.
“Microscopy allows me to see beyond the cuticle, explore the baroque arrangement of muscle fibers or intricate fractal-like network of neurons, and appreciate that beauty – probably in the most subjective sense possible – isn’t only skin deep,” he added.
Images taken through photomicrography often appear abstract, and Siwanowicz says he has been praised for his figurative depictions of insects.
“I often hear that the animals in my photographs seem to have grace, style, or even human character; I am apparently able to convey through photography my attitude towards living creatures and nature in general – which is that of respect and admiration,” he said.
Now in its 37th year, the Nikon Small WorldÂ contest recognises excellence in photomicrography, honouring images that successfully showcase the delicate balance between scientific technique and artistic quality. A full gallery of winning images, along with Images of Distinction can be viewed at www.nikonsmallworld.com.