The Alien Landscapes of Human Eyes in Macro

All photos by Suren Manvelyan

It’s the mix of tiny details in these photographs that makes them so mesmerizing. The flat, black depths of the pupils; the wrinkles and lines of the irises that seem to resemble rocky terrain; the way the light reflects off the cornea. Every shot draws you in and keeps your attention lingering on the patterns and textures – which look as if they belong to the surface of some otherworldly landscape.

Hypnotists are famously fond of telling people to "look into my eyes" while trying to cast a sort of mental spell, but these macro shots by photographer Suren Manvelyan are spellbinding all on their own. Manvelyan himself says, "Every time I look they continue to fascinate me."

The irises in these photographs appear to radiate out from the pupils, almost like petals around the center of a flower. In order to achieve such extreme close-ups, Manvelyan reckons the biggest challenge is getting the focus spot on. "It must be very precise," he says. However he accomplishes it, he obviously does it exactly right!

Looking at the magnificent structure and diversity of the irises seen here, it’s perhaps no wonder iridologists claim to be able to diagnose a person’s health just from examining the patterns, colors and other features belonging to this part of the eye. However, it’s worth noting that this claim is often refuted by medical doctors.

Even when an iris’s color is a uniform brown, the incredible variations of the fibrous tissue that covers it can be seen in an image like this. This tissue, known as the stroma, is connected to the muscles that cause our irises to contract and expand over the pupil, depending how much light needs to be let in.

Variations in the stroma are even more visible in this next shot, where the iris resembles a tangle of tree roots; or some strange geological formation whose cavities have been carved out by the elements. The subtle contrasts in the different shades that make up this eye can also clearly be seen in this especially close perspective.

As if being an amazing photographer weren’t enough, Suren Manvelyan also holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics. According to him, this scientific background helps him every time he has to take technically difficult shots – during a night photography shoot, for example, or one in extreme macro such as this.

In this stunning photo, the pupil looks as though it has a tangle of delicate silvery hairs around it, and the little flecks of gold only add to the loveliness of the image. Yet beyond their attractive appearance, eyes are also incredible instruments, many times more complex than even the most advanced cameras.

Here’s a gorgeous example of a two-toned eye, half of it a grey-blue, the other half a golden orange. Eye color is also very complex, a phenomenon influenced by factors such as pigmentation and texture but also the fibrous tissue and blood vessels within the iris. The pigment melanin is not solely responsible for the eye color we end up with; indeed, melanin actually has only two possible shades, fluctuating from black to brown.

Many people are aware that the cornea is the transparent part of the eye overlying the iris. But did you know that should you ever need to have your cornea transplanted, you may get one from a shark? Sharks’ corneas are remarkably similar to our own and are thus often used in human eye surgery. Sadly, however, having shark corneas won’t help you see better underwater!

We’ve moved a little further away and to the side in this photograph, which gives us a perspective on the ‘depth’ of the watery humor between cornea and pupil. The cornea works like a camera lens, concentrating light before it reaches the pupil. It also has the distinction of being the only living tissue in the human body not to contain blood vessels.

Here’s another shot of an eye from the side, looking a little as if it has an iris of brown flannel material – or soil that has been baked by the sun. Interestingly, the human eye can discern three basic colors – red, green, and blue – but from these it can make out about 10 million hues! Eyes are said to be able to distinguish between 500 shades of gray alone.

Here’s another lovely multi-colored eye, again with ridges and crevices in the retina that we wouldn’t normally notice. If you’re like us, you’ll be surprised by the wonderful three-dimensional qualities of these photographs, as distinct from the ‘flat’ perspective we commonly get when looking at eyes.

The pupil is visibly dilated in this shot, something that generally happens when it’s dim in order to allow more light in to the eye. However, pupils can also grow in size as a reaction to strong emotions such as fear or sexual attraction. And, as you may also know from various movies, a pupil that doesn’t react to light is a sign that someone is dead.

Despite popular belief, reading in poor lighting will not actually harm your eyes, unless they are already weak. In fact, it can actually make healthy eyes stronger! Don’t go replacing your light bulbs with candles just yet, though: reading without proper illumination can still give you a headache.

As we’ve already mentioned, eyes are extraordinarily complex organs. Not only are they able to process information at super speeds; they can also focus much faster than any camera on the market today. Which is just as well, or our world would be decidedly blurry!

In this photo we not only get a good look at the intricately patterned iris of the eye, but also at part of the eyelid, with its strangely thick-looking lashes. Did you know that the average person blinks around 15,000 times a day,
cleaning the eye surface and keeping it lubricated? Our tears ensure the eyes are provided with enough oxygen and also serve as a defense against bacteria.

The glistening clear dome over the spongy brown iris we see here is, of course, the cornea again. Without the cornea, not only would the fragile parts our eyes be more exposed; we also wouldn’t be able to see clearly. Around two thirds of the job of focusing is done by the cornea, with the lens responsible for the remainder.

This eye makes us think of another botanical image – a circle of trees with intertwined branches. Yet no matter what they look like, the eyes are a vital source of information – and not only because we see through them. Type 2 diabetes causes blood vessels in the back of our eyes to leak, and because of this, the disease is often first spotted during eye tests.

Speaking of diabetes, did you know that, at least in the United States, diabetes is believed to be the primary cause of new cases of adult blindness? We wonder what the person this eye belongs to thinks of that!

Another miniature forest circles the pupil of this eye, and this time the trunks and branches really stand out from the background with their unusual golden color. Almost like a tiny, intricate sculpture!

The astonishing gold filigree of this iris could almost be mistaken for the rays of sun, peeking out from behind an eclipse. An odd fact about looking at the real sun is that, apart from it being extremely bad for your eyes, it can make you to sneeze. Scientists accept this as a phenomenon, but so far can provide no reason for exactly why it happens!

If the last photograph made us think of heat and fire then this one brings to mind the cool depths of the sea. Interestingly, blue eyes are becoming increasingly less common in the United States. If you’re a blue-eyed Estonian, on the other hand, you have the same eye coloring as 99% of the population there.

Suren Manvelyan, who was born in Armenia, doesn’t like to talk about future photography plans, but he does say he is keen to revisit the macro eye theme. "I thought that I already photographed all possible kinds of eyes," he says. "But recently in Europe I met Dutch, German and Norwegian people with special eyes."

Manvelyan is also eager to continue his very popular series on animal eyes. "Animal eyes have much more variation," he explains. Whatever this amazing photographer chooses to photograph in the future, I certainly look forward to seeing it!

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