Studio Session with Mary Landau, M.D.

Judy HarperApril 11, 2020
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From her high school biology class to a career in pathology, Mary Landau, M.D., has marveled at the nuances of the human body at the microscopic level. Through the years, she discovered art in the laboratory and now shares her findings through MPATHY Art. One photo looks like a wave crashing on the beach. Another, like a pink heart. A third brings to mind festive party streamers. Hard to believe these striking images are squamous cell carcinoma, metastatic breast cancer and athlete’s foot.

“People don’t understand that cancer and warts are really beautiful. I’ve been in practice 21 years, and I always thought that what I see is art – the beauty in imperfections. I believe the microscope can turn fear into fascination, and if we can visualize our enemy, we are better equipped to fight it. It’s a different way to empower patients.”

A triple board-certified pathologist, Landau has provided diagnostic interpretations on more than 500,000 cases. When a particular slice of life catches her eye, she photographs the cells through her microscope. She also can access biopsy slides for patients who would like a custom piece. “The patients I’ve done this for are so grateful because they can point to the work and say, ‘I beat that!’ But I do warn people that their slides might not be very photogenic.”

Landau admits that some are “a little revolted” to learn that her art is a tumor, wart or fungal infection. “I think art should start a conversation or provoke an emotion. My art allows me to share the unique patterns of human pathology while teaching people a little about science.”

Landau donates a portion of proceeds to the American Cancer Society, Cancer Treatment Centers of America and the Dermatology Foundation. Find her work at

Microscope & Camera
Landau finds beauty in an unseen world, sharing magnified snapshots of human life. MPATHY artwork is derived from real biopsy slides.

Pathologists use H&E stains to view cellular and tissue structure detail. Hematoxylin stains cell nuclei blue, and eosin colors the cytoplasm pink, with other structures taking on different shades, hues and combinations of these colors.

Landau often enhances her photographs with watercolors at the edges and adds texture with acrylics.

A third-generation artist, Landau is inspired by sculptures her mother made from clay the two harvested from coal mines in West Virginia.

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