Marc Almond’s Shadows and Reflections

Marc Almond is continuing with his prolific career with the launch of his latest album “Shadows and Reflections”. In recent interviews, Marc mentions his love of torch songs, and this collection certainly confirms that, with a mixture of hits from the 60s, from the well known to the more obscure, plus a couple of his own thrown in for good measure.

These songs really suit his voice, and are best played on vinyl to capture the mood of the era. Having bought the album, I waited to desperately purchase tickets for his gig at the Usher Hall, but unfortunately could not get as near the front as I had wished for.

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I booked into the Travelodge on Princes Street, and hastily got ready, before making my way to the Usher Hall. Shaun and Yvonne were both going to be there, but I hadn’t made any definite plans to meet up with them. I was there early, and got speaking to a lovely couple who had travelled all the way from Chester-le-Street to see him. I sat with them at the bar and had a few drinks, then finally I got a message from Shaun who had arrived.  He had managed to get a seat a bit closer than I had, but told me that Yvonne had got a seat right up at the front. I sat down and the Overture began, which was not unlike the score to a glamorous 60s movie.

Marc came on stage, looking very smart in a charcoal grey suit and cuban heeled boots, and started to get things going with “Shadows and Reflections”.  Following this was Billy Fury’s “I’m Lost Without You” and The Young Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure?” More of the hits followed, “Blue on Blue”, “Not for Me,”  but the audience remained seated and very quiet. A couple of people came in late, and he muttered a few sarcastic comments their way, obviously annoyed at the disruption they had caused.  I tentatively filmed him singing a couple of songs, as although I was about 7 rows back, I worried that he might be annoyed or distracted if he saw me. I really wanted to get up and dance, or stand up and sway at the very least but it felt like it was never going to happen.

“Embers” was beautiful. The red and orange projections warmed the the stage and I felt that this was his best performance of the evening as it felt like he was truly singing from the heart.

“Child Star” was another joy to behold, and brought tears to my eyes and a shiver down my spine.

Finally, when that memorable trumpet intro to “Torch” sounded out,  another of Marc’s superfans, Gail, who was clad in a Cindy Ecstasy style blue sequinned dress got up to dance. Immediately everyone followed suit, and after “Torch”, Marc invited everyone to get out of their seats and dance everywhere. A crowd of people headed towards the stage, and I decided to do the same, where I met up with Shaun who had already made it to the front row.  He asked me if I wanted to try to get a selfie with Marc and I eagerly nodded. He said we’d need to leave half way though the last song, so I agreed. We danced to “Jackie“, “Hand over my heart“, and “Find me Somebody“, before slipping outside half way through “Say Hello…” I had even got so close to Marc that I handed him my fur hat but he just smiled and looked a bit puzzled before giving it back to me! I should have known better as his partner is a vegan!

Shaun and I slipped out of the Usher Hall and went round to the left hand side door, towards the back of the building. We could see a large van there waiting to load his equipment in. Looking into the side door, we saw Langy (Mark Langthorne) his handsome partner and manager talking to some of the crew. Next thing, we saw Marc heading towards the door wrapped in a grey blanket, and absolutely shivering.

“Marc, can we get a quick selfie please,” asked Shaun, who is a bit of a celebrity selfie expert himself.

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Marc agreed and I got the selfie that I had been dreaming of.Marc then ran off into the distance, and we couldn’t see where he went as a bus had blocked our view, but we were pretty certain he hd gone into a posh Sheraton hotel across the road.

We met up with Yvonne, and Gabi, and then headed across to the Sheraton hotel for cocktails in the hope that we might see him, but to no avail. It was a great night, we sat and gossiped about fans, music and Marc, and had excellent cocktails in the lounge. Yet another great night all in the name of Marc Almond.

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Marc Almond’s 60th Birthday bash

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After the gig in Perth, I joined the Marc Almond Fan page on Facebook was befriended by some lovely fans who I kept in touch with about events etc. The fan club were planning an alternative birthday party for Marc who was turning 60 on the 9th July. It was to be held in The Eden Bar in Birmingham in the heart of the gay village. I didn’t think I would be able to go, as it would mean travelling there alone, and I had no idea what I would be doing this summer. However, as luck would have it, my other half and I had decided to go to the Camperjam which was held in Weston Park, Shropshire, which was about 40 mins from Birmingham on the train. I decided that seeing as I was in the vicinity I would go, so I booked tickets and a room in a small hotel opposite the train station.  I got there early, and had a look around the amazing Bullring shopping centre which is joined on to the rail station. Ironically, the rose gold trainers which I had decided to wear (for comfort) gave me the most horrendous blisters on my heels, so I had to cover the wounds in plasters and opt for very high wedge heeled sandals, which were much more comfortable.

After having a delicious curry nearby, a really pleasant Asian taxi driver took me to the Eden bar. He looked puzzled at me when I gave him my destination, so I confided in him that I was a bit nervous going in, but it was a birthday party, to which he replied “I’m sorry Madam, but I cannot accompany you on this occasion!”

Once inside I got myself a cocktail and then messaged Shaun and Yvonne, two of Marc’s stalwart fans, and was introduced to others such as Lorraine and Lloyd, who looked every bit the celebrity in his gold glitter suit.

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Posing with Lloyd!

I had made some Cindy Ecstasy tote bags which I gave to some of the fans that I had met up with, much to their delight!

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We drank special Pink Flamingo cocktails and danced along to Marc’s music all night. Marc even sent us a live video as he could not be there, but thanked us all for throwing him a party anyway.  It was a great night, and it was good to actually meet some of the fans who I had spoken to on Facebook in real life.

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The lethal yet beautiful..Pink Flamingo Cocktail

When exiting the bar, I walked through to another lounge where a drag singer was performing. “Cheerio love, looks like she’s going home alone tonight!” she called out to me over the microphone, and I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I hailed a taxi at the door.

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Marc Almond – Hits and Pieces

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I was delighted to hear that he had decided to perform at Perth Concert Hall, which is only 15mins away, so was desperate to get tickets as soon as they came available. The tickets were coming on sale online, via telephone or you could buy them in person . I nipped down to the concert hall before work, and waited in anticipation until the doors were opened. At the ticket desk, I saw Lisa, an ex-student of mine, and I hurriedly asked her to get me the best tickets available, amidst phone calls coming in to the others on the desk making similar requests.  She got me two centre front row tickets, as I had decided to take my daughter with me (who was just 7 years old at the time).


A few days before the gig, Emilia fractured her ankle on a trampoline, and had to wear a moonboot, but she still decided to brave the situation and came along with me.  We were in Glasgow the day before the gig, and saw some really cool rainbow roses for sale in Argyll Street, so we bought one to give to Marc and took it with us to the gig.


Supporting act was The Flicks, a raunchy all girl band from London, who Emilia quite enjoyed.  Finally, the moment I had been waiting for , and Marc arrived on stage. We got an excellent view in the middle of the front row, and were treated to a mesmerising visual delight, not only from Marc but from the projections behind him.


He sang a medley of old and more recent, Soft Cell classics such as Down in the Subway Torch and What through his more well known songs from his solo career such as Jackie, Tears Run Rings, Child Star, Something’s gotten hold of my heart and rounding off with his usual Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.


Neal X (AKA NEAL WHITMORE) formerly of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, now frontman of The Montecristos also gave an outstanding performance on guitar. His hair still looks amazing after all these years.


The enigmatic Mr Neal X

The audience were great, apart from a few well meaning crazy drunks who were sitting behind us and kept donking Emilia on the head with their inflatable flamingos, all in good spirit of course! I was dancing all night, but poor Emilia had to sit most of the time as her foot was hurting. She did throw the rose to Marc, but unfortunately he didn’t see it, and it got trampled on. She did get up and dance to the last song, Say Hello, and I captured some great footage of her which shows how close we were to Marc.


At the end of the gig, I lifted her up towards the stage, but unfortunately her moonboot was so heavy that she couldn’t quite make it!Marc kneeled down and kissed her on the forehead, which was a lovely gesture, I just wish I could have taken a photo of it, but was too busy holding her up! It was a memorable evening, and having the best seats in the house made it seem as if Marc were singing directly to us, which made things even more special. I’m so pleased that we both went, and that she can always say that she met Marc Almond and got a kiss from him. I plan to take her to many more gigs of my favourite 80s musicians so that one day she will be able to look back and remember these amazing experiences. To watch the video, please rewind the red timeline on the video below, as otherwise you will be directly to annoying ads that have nothing to do with this!

Birnam Wood : A Journey into the Sublime

It’s not easy to put my experience of Birnam Wood into words. With each visit, I embark on a new voyage of discovery which triggers all of my senses; I witness transient sights of weird and wonderful species, smells which range from smokey winter fires to wild garlic and pungent herb Robert, sounds of the ever present choir of birds and enjoy the sensation of my bare feet treading on the mossy carpet or the leaves crunching underfoot. In the book Birnam Wood. A Journey into the Sublime, I have attempted to document my experience of the wood, taking you off the beaten track of the well worn paths, cutting through the deep undergrowth and lush vegetation to view some extraordinary specimens which lurk in this ancient woodland. Many of these strange phenomena are both fascinating and yet at the same time repulsive or a bit frightening, leaving me with an unsettling curiosity and a cautious awareness of my surroundings.  Below you can view the book by clicking on the link, where you are also able to purchase the book if you wish.

Birnam Wood. A Journey into the Sublime (36 pages)

My Landscape Book

Cocktails and Culture

For my final series of experiments with culture, I decided to make some culture “cocktails”by mixing some of the fungal samples together before spreading them onto the agar jelly. I wanted to see if I could grow a variety of cultures which were visibly different (on the same plate), before photographing them again in Birnam Wood.


I grew three more successful cultures, in each one I included a swab of a different variety of jelly fungus, along with a mixture of other fungi as well.



Above : In situ, in Birnam Wood and Below: Contrast altered and image enhanced in Photoshop





Although the bacteria on these plates was visually quite interesting, I wasn’t happy with the photos, as I felt the lighting was not good enough, as they had been shot on a dull day. Also, because of this, the bacteria in the first photo was too dominant and looked too much like a snake. I kept the cultures in my studio, and decided to try again the following week when the weather was brighter…


The shadows do a great job of breaking up the large spreads of bacteria, creating unusual and interesting shapes within the dish. I picked different foliage, such as the fern used above, and held them at varying angles to create the shadows that I wanted.

I’m much happier with these results, and feel that they illustrate the “exotic place tinged with danger” that Gamwell (2003, p.49)* describes in her article on microscopy. They perfectly capture the impression that I want to give of Birnam Wood- a sort of overgrown “paradise”, my “garden of earth delights”, which has the potential to be just as fascinating as a tropical rainforest if one knows where to look.

I envisage these final 3 pieces, along with my favoured image that I took a few months ago, printed onto aluminium dibond and hanging in close proximity to one another in my final MA show.

exhibtion images

*Gamwell, L. (2003) “Beyond The Visible–Microscopy, Nature, And Art”. Science [online] 299 (5603), 49. Available from:

Scientific studies

I’ve been making some pencil studies of some strange species of fungi and lichen that I’ve found in Birnam Wood. Some of these drawings have been made with the aid of a magnifying glass, which has helped me to observe some of the very small details which I may otherwise have missed. I have purposely drawn these specimens as near to life size as possible, fitting them onto postcard sized paper, and have spent time carefully observing them to try to capture their forms and texture as accurately as possible.


Ramalina Fastigiata Lichen


Milk White toothed polypore

oakmaossOak moss lichen


Jew’s Ear Fungus


Black Jelly Brain Fungus

I haven’t done this type of detailed analytical drawing since I was at college studying Illustration over 20 years ago, when I remember doing a rather impressive drawing of a rabbit skeleton for a scientific illustration module.  Although these drawings are small, they have taken many hours, yet there is something really satisfying about just drawing…especially to this level of detail. It is a process which requires intense concentration, observation and precise rendering, but the results at the end of it are very rewarding.

I am attempting to do 9 of these studies, and so far have completed 5. I was lucky to find some real glass petri dishes recently at a car boot sale, which are really beautiful objects compared to the plastic ones I have been working with. I would like to insert prints of these drawings into the petri dishes and mount them in a square formation, perhaps as an exhibit in my show. The petri dishes seem appropriate as a way of presenting the drawings, as they reference science, and the small aspects of nature which are often unnoticed or overlooked.


Above: Presented in a petri dish…the shiny, new glass dish makes a beautiful container for these weird species, trapping them and keeping a barrier between them and the viewer.

An Interview with Liz Douglas

Liz Douglas is a contemporary artist who works in a variety of media, especially painting, but what I find really interesting about her work is the fact that she incorporates scientific techniques into her process to describe parts of the landscape.


Fen Pools  © 2011 Liz Douglas                                                                                   Mixed media on canvas  820mm x 820mm

Liz began turning to science by looking at microscopical geological images when her art school tutor encouraged her to bring other disciplines into her work to enrich and inform her landscape painting. Since then, she has worked with ecologists and biologists on various projects including work which she produced for her‘Mire’ exhibition in 2011, which was the result of 3 years work at Whitlaw Mosses nature reserve near Selkirk. When I look deeply into this painting, I feel a floating sensation, unsure if I am above or under the water,  as if I am looking through a glass-bottomed boat. There is a shadowy image just below the centre, which is not unlike a mysterious ghostly figure standing over the pool, or perhaps we are looking down into the depths of the pool at objects lying below. The abstract shapes which float on or near the surface look like they have been inspired by microscopic views of the algae in the pond. The subtle monochromatic colour scheme has a calming and serene effect, broken only by the mysterious dark shapes which are carefully placed within it. Ettrick-Series---willowlines-slow-thaw-1.5mx1.5m-mm-on-canvas-large

Slow Thaw (2006) © 2012 Liz Douglas                                                                             Mixed media on canvas 1.5m x 1.5m

Slow Thaw, 2008 above shows three semi-transparent tube-like forms, which lie against a warm, lilac background. The ambiguous shapes may be slightly sinister, but the warm background reassures us against fear, and their transparency gives them a delicate and fragile beauty. For me, this is an example for the sublime – the uncanny attraction which we keep staring at despite an unsettling undertone.

I contacted Liz to find out more about her practice, and she kindly agreed to answer a questionnaire for me, as I find her work very relevant to what I am researching and writing about.

When and why did you begin to use the microscope as a method of studying the landscape?      I was encouraged by a tutor in my final Masters of Fine Art painting year to consider looking outside art to inform my landscape work. I began by looking at Geology in relation to a site of special scientific interest that I was working on where microscopic elements existed in the rocks which had a visual quality. I also work with Biologists and Ecologists.I find the collaborative element and the information that I get opens up whole new worlds.

Why do you think artists are collaborating more with scientists – what advantage does a scientific slant bring to a body of work on landscape?  The scientists bring another perspective to landscape. They offer particular expertise in their field which allows the artist to explore aspects of the landscape in depth and creates new possibilities for making work. Over the last twenty or so years there has been an increasing concern about the environment and the collaboration between artists and scientists has developed. 

What do you enjoy about viewing the landscape/nature through glass? Why do you think it is a suitable tool for themes of environment or the natural world?   I find it exciting to look through an optical or scanning electron microscope at structures that are invisible to the eye.I like the whole investigative process of being in the landscape -collecting material (with permission) organising, selecting, editing, as well as dialoguing with scientists and others to inform and extend my ideas at the research and development stage. These tools reveal hidden aspects of the natural world and provide possible new visual metaphors.

Do you think that having a parochial view (not meaning to sound negative here, just considering a focus on a small element of a particular landscape or environment) of a particular landscape brings more interest to a work, rather than trying to capture a vast area?  I think that working on microscopic material from sites informs the wider landscape. The ‘place’, which is local, is the focus, where universal processes occur –e.g. seasonal change, global climate/geological change etc. It is a microcosm.

 Do you think that studying the species of a particular environment can help to capture its ‘spirit of place’? Each habitat has its own unique ecological characteristics. It takes time to work through material from a particular environment at the micro level to find metaphors that add a new element to the work and say something else about the place – e.g. spirit/essence or something new and surprising.

One of the visions of the Romantic artists was to capture the sublime, and often terrifying forces of nature. Do you get a sense of this when you look down the microscope, are you ever unsettled by what you see?  It can be quite unsettling looking at the amount of microscopic creatures to be found in e.g. a drop of water and imagining their part in the larger whole. These creatures can be x35,000 what the eye can see. That can be unnerving and amazing at the same time. I constantly tussle with notions of the sublime and underlying invisible elements when making work.

Is there ever a health and safety aspect to what you are doing, for instance, do you ever work with potentially toxic or harmful aspects of nature?  I am immensely cautious about the harmful and potentially toxic aspects that exist when working in the natural world. The process of collecting living material is safe, if you know the terrain well, although the people on any particular site of special scientific interest know that I am working there so there is an element of protection. Working with an optical microscope, looking at material in the studio at x80 has no risk attached to it. The preparation of collected material for the Scanning Electron Microscope involves a lengthy process using toxic chemicals. This part of the process has to take place in a laboratory because it is hazardous and appropriate safety procedures are used. I have to work with a technician because I am not a scientist!

Do you use a camera to photograph the microscopic images before rendering them, or do you work straight from the microscope, or from your memory of what you have seen through it? I have a camera attached to my optical microscope which is great because I can download images onto a pc to work further into them. These images are at a high resolution.The S.E.M images of prepared specimens are taken by an internal camera attached to the scanning electron microscope. They reveal a much higher magnification of minute structures. I work mainly from direct observation in the landscape, drawing and photographing and from SEM images, in the development of my visual ideas.

Any other comments you would like to make, or useful information? The scientist is rarely interested in art and finding a way to dialogue with the scientist is not easy. They are the ‘experts’ and the artist is not. It is important to be aware of the history of art when working in the scientific field as it can be a bit overwhelming at times.. I always focus on the intention of making a piece of artwork.

Jelly babies

I found some interesting species of jelly fungi in the wood yesterday, so I picked a few specimens to take away and draw in my studio. The first that I came across was Exidia Glandulosa otherwise known as Black Brain Fungus. It was growing on a branch of a beech tree, and was in reach, so I gently picked off a few pieces. IMG_8930

Exidia Glandulosa or Black Brain Fungus

I find these jelly fungi really intriguing – on the one hand they are repulsive, brain-like, as if from another planet, but at the same time I think they are amazing and I am really excited when I find them.

IMG_9227I decided to make a study of this one, as it looked really strange…I also used a magnifying glass to try to get as many details in as possible.



Neobulgaria pura var. foliacea Beech Jelly Fungus 


 The same beech jelly fungus in a more shrivelled up state the next day


Auricula Judae or Jew’s Ear Fungus


Another Jew’s ear, but a bit less like an ear than the sample above


I have kept some of the samples that I collected, as apparently they dry out, and can be revived again when moist. I’m going to experiment with this to see if I can revive them so that they also might be used in a cloche as part of my installation.


Cultivating Oysters

Birnam Wood is ripe with fungi most times of the year, and i never cease to be amazed at all the different varieties growing there. Within the space of 48 hours, fungi can appear, then dry up, with only a few small traces of it ever existing. Some of the most impressive fungi was the Common Oyster, Pleurotus Ostreatus, which I found growing on a large log  just inside the entrance to the wood. This particular log has been host to a wide variety of fungi, and its occupants seem to change on a daily basis. For my show, I want to  try to bring some of the species growing in the wood into the gallery, so I managed to source an Oyster Mushroom growing kit online.


I soaked a bag overnight (which was filled with recycled coffee grounds and compost) and left it for a few days. The surface of the compost started to become very white, and small textured bobbles and stumps started to appear after a few days. IMG_7374

After a couple of days of being soaked, small white bobbles appeared on the surface
IMG_7791Tiny baby “oysters” started to form


Within hours, the babies grew into much larger mushrooms, just like the ones I had seen in Birnam Wood


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I was so amazed that these mushrooms were actually growing in my kitchen! Although edible, I really didn’t fancy trying them, so I kept them there for a couple of weeks and then I harvested them. I laid them on a plate to dry, in hope that I might be able to use the dried mushrooms for something too.

The kit is able to grow a second batch too, so I soaked it again, and this time I have cut the grow bag down so that it fits under a glass cloche, as I want to see how the mushrooms look when pressed against glass.





I need to find or make a suitable base for the cloche, but just wanted to try this out to see how it would look. I really hope the mushrooms grow, despite being taken out of their dark cardboard box and their grow bag. I have covered the cloche with a tea towel to darken their environment a little, so hopefully that might help.

If they continue to grow, and the experiment works, I will buy another kit and try this out for  part of an installation in my show. If this works I think it will be an interesting exhibit, especially if it appears that the mushrooms are pressed against the glass, trying to escape. I might even see if I could form a small hole in the glass and allow them to burst out, leaving the broken glass beside the cloche on a bench.

Dazzling Diatoms


One of Klaus Kemp’s wonderful diatom arrangements

I recently came across the work of Klaus Kemp, a dedicated scientist-cum-artist who spends his spare time collecting and mounting diatoms; single-celled organisms which form algae. These tiny organisms cannot be seen by the naked eye, but under a microscope they reveal their beautiful forms through their cell walls which are made of silica. According to Burgess, in Under the Microscope (1990, p.120 ) the sea is full of these creatures, with a litre of water continuing up to 15000 diatoms. Klaus who is well known in this field of art and science, is one of just a few practitioners who are trying to keep this dying art alive.


Klaus at home with this microscope

Diatom arranging was popular in the Victorian era, when the art of amateur (as well as professional) microscopy was very fashionable. The diatoms, which were collected from far flung corners of the globe would be arranged into stunning kaleidoscopic patterns on glass slides, which were sealed and sold to collectors for amusement.

A recent film was made by Matthew Killip called The Diatomist, in which Kemp discusses his obsession with these tiny organisms. It also shows stunning displays of his work accompanied by a fitting soundtrack, which includes fairground organ music, evoking in me a sense of childhood nostalgia and wonder.

I found his number online, and gave him a ring, and we chatted to about 20 minutes about his work and our mutual respect for Ernst Haeckel, who he coincidently is basing a project on at the moment. I asked him if he would answer a short questionnaire, and he kindly agreed, returning it to me the very same afternoon.

When and why did you begin to use the microscope as a method of studying parts of the environment?   1954, aged 16 at Flatters and Garnetts Biological teaching material supplier.

Were you ever inspired by the works of the “Romantic” scientists/artists such as Ernst Haeckel?  Yes, by his plates which are I believe astounding for their accuracy and so much so that it is easy to identify all the species he has figured.

What type of microscope do you use/ what are its capabilities?  My main microscope for mounting type slides and arrangements is a Biolam, which in the main uses low power objectives, but also has a rare X100 objective configured to work on dry uncovered specimens, ideal for working out the species being dealt with. I use a Leitz Orthoplan for careful study of any species, which has a Heine condenser and phase, it also allows me to use oil on the minute forms of diatoms.

Why do you think artists are turning towards science – what advantage does a scientific slant bring to a body of work on the environment? Art!!!Nature has it by the handful, and the best we can do is create art around Nature, even at quantum physics stage or Nano technology  we have to admire the complexity of nature and stand in awe.

What do you enjoy about viewing the landscape/nature through glass? Why do you think it is a suitable tool for themes of environment or the natural world?  Difficult question, but think of the number who have been or are now on the planet, and have never seen this awesome world and yet we are surrounded not only by the microscopic world but astronomy opens up another world, which then makes humankind the “pimple on a fleas leg”.

Do you think that studying the species of a particular environment can help to capture its ‘spirit of place’? Yes Darwin was right, everything is in its rightful place and if not Nature will modify the species until it is – evolution is just magic.

Is there ever a health and safety aspect to what you are doing, for instance, do you ever work with potentially toxic or harmful aspects of nature? Only in the cleaning process in getting rid of the organic matter in diatoms so that the silica is all you are left with. The cleaning process uses boiled Hydrochloric Acid which deals with any calcium present in the sample, and fuming Sulphuric Acid which removes the organic matter. Both processes are carried out in a fume cupboard.

One of the visions of the Romantic artists was to capture the “sublime”- the beautiful yet often startling forces of nature. Do you get a sense of this when you look down the microscope, or are you ever unsettled by what you see?  Mankind has the ability to manipulate only to a degree, but we are powerless against the forces of nature. We will ultimately either destroy ourselves by war, fooling around with physics, messing around with genes,or be destroyed by forces we are unable to control, the environment, global warming (not new), mass extinction (not new). The flip side to this is that Nature abhors a vacuum, so something else will take our place, we are at least fortunate in beginning to understand our position in Nature.

I was really grateful for Klaus taking the time to chat with me and to answer my questionnaire. The study of diatoms is yet another interesting aspect to microbiology, which highlights the hidden and wonderful invisible elements of the world around us, and I found it especially interesting that it was an art practiced in the nineteenth century, the latter end of the Romantic era and the Age of the Enlightenment.