Studio Session with Lee Hendrickson

Marilyn HawkesDecember 20, 2019
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Photo by Angelina Aragon
Photo by Angelina Aragon

Lee Hendrickson’s photographs might best be described as an artistic chemistry experiment. A former research scientist who later earned a degree in biomedical photography, Hendrickson photographs home-grown crystals under a microscope to create stunning images that mimic forms in nature.

He grows the crystals on glass slides by mixing different powders (caffeine, citric acid) and solutions (acetone, wine), and then places them under a high-resolution microscope. To the naked eye, the crystals look like powder on glass, but when examined under the microscope, they transform into vivid colors and unusual patterns.

“It’s all dependent on the shape and the thickness of the crystal and the angle that the crystal is in relationship to the light source [underneath.]” Projected onto a computer monitor, the lush images resemble colorful sunsets, delicate flowers, gangly rods of bamboo, crashing ocean waves and dark, stormy skies.

Taking photos through a microscope can be tricky, Hendrickson says. “The light source and camera have to be perfectly aligned to keep the sharpness and resolution. If I don’t focus properly it will be blurry, and any vibration moves the camera.”

While Hendrickson knows that some substances mixed together will make predictable patterns, the images are different every time. “Variables occur, and those variables will dictate how things are going to happen.” Changing the solvent or adding another solvent to the slide will change the outcome. “You’ll never get the exact same pattern.”

Catch Hendrickson at the Arizona Fine Art Expo in Scottsdale from January 10 through March 22. He’ll have his gear in tow and you can learn the magic behind the eye-catching images. Visit arizonafineartexpo.com and photographyofcrystals.com.

1. Microscope and Camera

Used to magnify crystals for image capture.

2. Computer

The monitor displays magnified images while Hendrickson works on slides, and the hard drive stores digital files for printing.

3. Laboratory

Tools of the trade: scale, test tubes, glass slides, powders, solutions and metal instruments to grow crystals.

4. Artwork

Hendrickson displays his finished pieces – large, but finely detailed, colorful prints – on metal.

5. Inspiration

An avid reader, Hendrickson turns to books on art, science and creativity to broaden his knowledge.

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