Daily Picture Show

Is That A Landscape Or A Fortune Cookie?

  • Caren Alpert uses an electron microscope to capture this image of a fortune cookie magnified 150 times (terra cibus no. 4: fortune cookie). Take a look at some of her other photos and see if you can guess what they are. We'll give you a hint.
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    Caren Alpert uses an electron microscope to capture this image of a fortune cookie magnified 150 times (terra cibus no. 4: fortune cookie). Take a look at some of her other photos and see if you can guess what they are. We'll give you a hint.
    Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT: Save your breath — this one's a near giveaway.
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    HINT: Save your breath — this one's a near giveaway.
    Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT: This "celestial" spice gives licorice its flavor.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Life Savers candy, 17 times magnification
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    HINT: This "celestial" spice gives licorice its flavor.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Life Savers candy, 17 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 22: Lifesaver/Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT: Na, man. Na.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Star anise, 14 times magnification
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    HINT: Na, man. Na.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Star anise, 14 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 30: star anise/Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT: The best part of ice cream.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Salt (NaCl), 45 times magnification
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    HINT: The best part of ice cream.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Salt (NaCl), 45 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 5: salt/Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT: Pina fiber is made from this; hopefully it won't make it into your pina colada.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Cake sprinkles, 65 times magnification
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    HINT: Pina fiber is made from this; hopefully it won't make it into your pina colada.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Cake sprinkles, 65 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 12: cake sprinkles/Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT: Got milk?PREVIOUS SLIDE: Pineapple leaf, 85 times magnification
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    HINT: Got milk?PREVIOUS SLIDE: Pineapple leaf, 85 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 33: pineapple leaf/Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT: An edible red root veggie that is part of the mustard family.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Oreo cookie, 15 times magnification
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    HINT: An edible red root veggie that is part of the mustard family.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Oreo cookie, 15 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 24: Oreo/Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • HINT:They should wear SPF when they bathe in the Italian sun.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Radish, 60 times magnification
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    HINT:They should wear SPF when they bathe in the Italian sun.PREVIOUS SLIDE: Radish, 60 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 36: radish/Courtesy of Caren Alpert
  • The blue of this blueberry magnified 32 times (terra cibus no. 1: blueberry) has been added in postproduction, as have the colors of all of Alpert's electron microscope images, but she tries to match the colors to be as true as possible. PREVIOUS SLIDE: Sundried tomato, 250 times magnification
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    The blue of this blueberry magnified 32 times (terra cibus no. 1: blueberry) has been added in postproduction, as have the colors of all of Alpert's electron microscope images, but she tries to match the colors to be as true as possible. PREVIOUS SLIDE: Sundried tomato, 250 times magnification
    terra cibus no. 35: sundried tomato/Courtesy of Caren Alpert

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Caren Alpert takes food photography to another level. For her, it takes weeks of planning, and a commute from San Francisco to University of Arizona in Tucson, where her "camera" stays. It's actually a scanning electron microscope — a hefty piece of equipment in a subterranean lair with walls padded to reduce even the slightest movement.

"I venture to say I'm the first artist who's ever been down there," she laughs over the phone.

Alpert zooms in up to several hundred times to take pictures of fortune cookies and radishes — turning familiar foods into abstractions that almost resemble aerial landscapes.

She adds color to the images in postproduction but tries to make it as true to life as she can. The process also requires that the food be completely dry, so anything she works on has to be dehydrated beforehand.

Shrimp tail at 230 times magnification. i i

Shrimp tail at 230 times magnification. Courtesy of Caren Alpert hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Caren Alpert
Shrimp tail at 230 times magnification.

Shrimp tail at 230 times magnification.

Courtesy of Caren Alpert

A commercial food, interior and travel photographer by day, Alpert's fine art endeavor has led her to photograph more than 40 different foods, and she is always surprised by what results. One of her favorite images in the series, titled "terra cibus," is of the feather-like texture of a shrimp's tail. "I called the aquarium, I was so surprised," she says. (It turns out the "feathers" are actually appendages called "pleopods" that help the shrimp swim.)

On the other hand, sometimes things turn out to be surprisingly dull, as was the case with a tortilla chip. "You would think," she says, "that because of all the cracks and crevices, it would be so interesting, but it was a total dud."

Perhaps the most striking thing about these images is how abstracted they are from the actual food that is pictured. It's difficult to tell if we're looking at a pineapple leaf or a bird's-eye view of a plot of farmland. How well did you do on our gallery quiz? Were you able to identify the fortune cookie? See more of Caren Alpert's food photos on her website.

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