“Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”


From infinitesimally small microscopic life to the near-infinite number of galaxies and stars, the incomprehensible size and spectrum of the universe defies human logic and understanding. The term “cosmos” is defined as “the universe understood as an ordered system.” But how can we make sense of, and create a system of logic for, a field too vast for us to comprehend?

This body of work probes the immense scale of the universe as the microscopic and macrocosmic coalesce into an art object. Invisible microscopic bacteria are grown onto photographic film of appropriated images from the far reaches of outer space. The bacteria are swabbed from locations both ubiquitous and exotic, as I try to find a variety of microscopic life from the most unlikely places. A layer of chemistry is then applied to the surface of photographic film to act as a breeding ground for the bacteria. As the bacteria grow and multiply, they interact with the film, altering it, stripping away color layers, and slowly disintegrating the archaic media into an unpredictable abstraction of color and texture. I scan the bacteria-laden film in order to create the final prints and, in the process, kill this microscopic ecosystem. This whole series is a performative act of simultaneous creation and destruction, a notion tied to the very fabric of existence itself.

One end of this cosmic spectrum devours the other. The real devours photographic representation. The nature of photography is called into question as the bacteria eats away the image into material abstraction, demolishing the pictorial, and freeing the photo-object from the burden of depiction. The conventional use of the photographic film is subverted and manipulated by the unforeseeable forces of nature as the work ultimately interrogates the material possibilities of photography.

—Marcus DeSieno

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like these previous features: Surveillance Landscapes, DiSieno’s award-winning work that uses imagery gleaned from state-controlled surveillance systems; A Micro Odyssey, dazzling images of bacteria served with a side of existentialism; and Gate: Interstellar City Streets, a series that transforms an ordinary city corner into an otherworldly new dimension.