The secret life of gemstones
James Mitchell Crow uncovers one photographer's glimpse of otherworldly spaces.
Los Angeles-based artist Danny Sanchez is a photographer of alien landscapes. But the weird worlds he captures are not far-flung moons or planets – he glimpses otherworldly spaces inside gemstones.
Sanchez photographs the geological impurities known as “inclusions” that can form inside some gems – for example, the jagged “mountains” of the titanium-rich mineral rutile inside this piece of quartz (above).
“My photos are achieved by carefully lighting an object the size of a pin head inside another object the size of a pea,” Sanchez says. These miniature scenes are photographed through a micropscope.
In the image above, the faceted outer surface of quartz crystal gemstone itself is visible, as well as the rainbow sheen of a hematite inclusion (a mineral of iron oxide) trapped within.
When viewed through a microscope, only thin slices of the gemstone can be brought into focus at any one time. To create his images, Sanchez uses a technique called focus stacking. He takes multiple images of the crystal at slightly different focal depths, then stitches them together using software. “Depending on how much depth the scene I'm trying to capture has, it can take upwards of 120 shots to make the final product,” he says.
Gemstone inclusions have three possible ways of forming. Sometimes the inclusion forms first, and is later swallowed by another growing gemstone. Sometimes the mineral and the gemstone form at the same time.
Most weirdly, the inclusion can form after the gemstone. That happens when traces of impurities dispersed through the gemstone slowly migrate through the material to form little crystals of their own – still encased within the parent stone.
“I could shoot opal forever – especially boulder opal, which is only ever found in Australia,” Sanchez says. Boulder opals – like the one below – form within fissures of large boulders of a sedimentary rock called ironstone. Over the aeons, silica-rich water trickles into these cracks in the ironstone, collects and dries, and spherical crystals of silica – the opal – slowly grow.
You can visit Sanchez's website http://www.dannyjsanchez.com/ or follow him on Instagram: @mineralien