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An Interview with Wim van Egmond

Molecular Expressions conducted this interview with Wim van Egmond when he was chosen as the Molecular Expressions Featured Microscopist for Fall 2003. Interested visitors who visit the gallery and would like some additional information are invited to contact Wim directly via email with their own questions at: egmond@tip.nl. For more information about Wim's exciting world of microscopy, visit his fabulous 3-D Microscopy website.

Meet Our Featured Microscopist

Molecular Expressions: Tell us about your background and interests.

van Egmond: I was born in 1966. I studied painting and photography on the art school of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. After graduation I started working as an autonomous artist. I began experimenting with stereoscopic photography and photomicrography. In my earliest photography I tried to make abstract images by transforming reality. Now I use the microscope to get even more abstract images. Although I don't have a scientific training I am also interested in the biology of what I photograph.

Molecular Expressions: How many and what type of microscopes do you own or have available to you?

van Egmond: I have a Zeiss standard microscope and Zeiss Photo-microscope 1. For examining plankton and making slides I use a simple Russian stereomicroscope.

Molecular Expressions: You've done quite well in the Nikon Small World contest the past two years, despite the heaviest levels of competition ever seen. To what do you attribute your success?

van Egmond: Perhaps because there are not that many people attending the competition with images of living organisms.

Molecular Expressions: What led you to such an intense interest in microscopy?

van Egmond: As a child I was very interested in paleontology and natural history. I have always been intrigued with things that are beyond our scope. You have to use your imagination to visualize lost eras like the Cambrian seas. In the Netherlands, were I live, it is not easy to find fossils so it was difficult to become a fossil hunter. But there is an awful lot of water here where I can find the most amazing aquatic microorganisms. My hometown is not far from the sea and I have to walk 6 meters from my doorstep to find a canal so there is always a fresh sample at hand. I grew up in a small village a couple of kilometers from were van Leeuwenhoek lived. So I guess where I live is not a bad spot for being a microscopist. I was encouraged in my efforts because I met many people with similar interests. My friends of the Dutch microscopy club NVVM helped me a lot to get started and the people of Microscopy UK and Micscape magazine offered a platform to present my work on the web.

Molecular Expressions: What is your favorite contrast-enhancing microscopy technique?

van Egmond: My favorite technique is dark field illumination. It is very easy to make and gives a dramatic effect. When you observe a sample of pond water with dark-field illumination microscopy becomes 'indoor space traveling.'

Molecular Expressions: In general, do you prefer to capture images with traditional film or digital imaging techniques, and why?

van Egmond: I still prefer to use traditional film since it has more subtle colors. But I do use the digital camera I won with my first Nikon Small World entry a lot. Especially for making photo-montages of organisms that are too big to fit on one image.

Molecular Expressions: What makes a great photomicrograph or digital image?

van Egmond: I prefer images that look natural. I don't like too artificial or 'high tech' looking images. There is no recipe for good images but I always prefer images that are subtle and tranquil. Or images that are a bit different from the ordinary. My aim has always been to portray microorganisms as life-like as possible. As with a portrait of a person I try to capture the 'personality' of the organism. I also like to show aspects of the biology of the organisms.

Molecular Expressions: Do you have a favorite photomicrograph or digital image?

van Egmond: One of my favorite images is of a rather weird looking Polychaete larva. I like the stance of the organism. I always try to make quite minimal compositions. The way the subject is positioned is precisely balanced. The arm-like palps and the expression of the 'face' make it a weird little monster. It is not just a nice picture, it is also funny and grotesque.

Molecular Expressions: What's some of the fun stuff you do?

van Egmond: I write songs and lyrics. I sing and play guitar in a band. Working with the microscope requires a lot of patience and concentration. So it is nice for a change to make loud noisy music with a group of friends.

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