Most of what we know about the insides of fish is usually broiled or fried on our plates.A scalyhead sculpin (Artedius harringtoni) picture that’s part of the exhibition. Photograph by Adam Summers
The exhibit, called Cleared: The Art of Science Photography, features 14 large-format photographic prints of fish specimens that were specially stained with dyes to make their skeletal tissues pop out. (See “First Photos: Weird Fish With Transparent Head.”)
With the help of Ilya Brook, a longtime friend and “Photoshop wizard,” Summers reshot some of the images with artistic rather than scientific content in mind.
It was “completely surprising,” he said.
There’s a lot of complexity to be had in a fish.
“I suspect that part of what makes these fetching is that there’s an almost unlimited level of detail,” said Summers, who was also a science consultant for the movie Finding Nemo (in which he’s billed as the “Fabulous Fish Guy”).
“The images allow you to look really, really, really closely, but they also allow you to step back and sort of appreciate a large form. To get to that level of fractal detail is somehow viscerally appealing to people.” (Also see “See-Through Goldfish Bred; Cuts Out Need for Dissection.”)
For instance, fish have a lot more bones than, say, mammals. A person has over 200 bones in all, while there are 200 bones just in a fish’s head and the start of its vertebral column, Summers says.
“That level of sort of repetitiveness draws the eye. It’s kinda cool.”
Details to Dye For
Such fine structural details are possible due to Summers’s technique. To create the images, he uses two dyes to stain the fish’s skeleton: Alcian blue for the cartilaginous parts, and Alziarin Red S for the mineralized tissue that has become hardened, like bone. (See some of the best artistic science pictures from 2013.)
The fish are then lightly bleached with peroxide and an intestinal enzyme is used to dissolve flesh. The animal is placed in glycerin, which makes them appear transparent.
This formula is decades old, Summers added, but “all of us who use it have our own little recipes.
“To take pictures that are not intentionally scientific has been great fun.”