Surprisingly Beautiful Close-Ups of Beverages

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 23 2011 11:45 AM

Oh Snap!: When Magnified, Coffee and Beer Are Surprisingly Beautiful

Oh Snap! is Brow Beat’s weekly photo feature. Have you spotted a project that’s worth profiling? Pitch to heather.murphy@slate.com.

Who knew that, when viewed up close, a coffee stain would look like an elegant abstract painting, or that a smudge of cola would resemble a distant planet, spotted in maroon dots? Phoenix-based artist William LeGoullon photographed these and other beverages with a microscope, creating magnified views of some of the most commonly consumed liquids in the world. (See if you can guess which photograph is of tea, beer, or wine in the gallery below.)

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LeGoullon treats popular beverages like scientific specimens, placing a drop on a slide with an eye dropper and allowing the liquid to evaporate before photographing it under a microscope. What’s left on the slide are the particles that make each beverage distinct, thumbprints of drinkable culture.

Cola—regardless of brand—is relatively particle-free, he found.  "Just a strand of bubbles is all you can really find," he explains. Tea and coffee create more complex images, due to their organic matter. The "dirtiness" of iced coffee creates a different look than espresso, which is filled with tiny bubbles.

LeGoullon’s fascination with beverages stems from the time he spent as working as a barista and a bartender and documenting the beer breweries of Arizona. Familiar with the process of crafting beverages, he was curious what these popular liquids looked like up close.

"I wanted to observe what we put in our body," LeGoullon says. Thanks to his work we can now rationalize drinking a beverage—regardless of its sugar or alcohol content—as an act of art consumption.

Like these images? You may also enjoy Caren Alpert’s incredible electron miscroscope images of food.  See more Oh Snap! galleries here.

Heather Murphy is a former Slate photo editor and the creator of Behold, the Photo Blog. Follow her on Twitter.