July 26, 2008

Designs Unseen – "Micronaut" Martin Oeggerli

This is the full version of an article printed first via www.xymara.com at this link.

All pictures and images full copyright of Martin Oeggerli, used by special licensed permission.

Very rarely when doing research about a given artist or designer are you going to come across statements next to their names along the lines of "E2F3 is the main target gene of the 6p22 amplicon with high specificity for human bladder cancer." But this is in fact indeed part of "micronaut" Martin Oeggerli's world. Splitting his time between his "day job" doing extremely valuable cancer research at the University of Basel's Pathology department and his passion for photographing the "micro-cosmos" around us, Martin is living his dreams.

Using a technique involving the utilization of extremely delicate and highly sophisticated scanning electron microscopes (SEM) to just even begin his process, he has developed over the past years an amazing portfolio of the "seen and unseen" in our world. And to meet Martin is to experience firsthand just how passionate he truly is about his work. Whether its excitedly describing the differences in the quality of hairs of "cute" jumping spiders or contemplating the small and somewhat mysterious objects hiding between a butterfly's scaly winglets, Martin not only brings his work to life through the images he creates but makes you really look at the world around you in a new light.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Martin prior to the opening of an important new show of his work:

Martin, please explain how you got interested in photography and design?

For as long as I can remember, I've been interested in beautiful images. Also, when I was younger I did a lot of drawing, illustrating very detailed and accurate pictures of different things.

My current style of work started when my father gave me my first camera in 2004. I think I made 20'000 pictures in the first few months alone because I had just such a great time with it. The camera was very functional and allowed me to focus on all sizes of views. You could also rotate the zoom lens pretty easily and get really comfortably close to just about anything.

A few months later, I was asked to do display some of my work at the Institute of Pathology, University Hospital, Basel because at that time and until very recently we had always artist exhibitions several times per year. You see, we have a full-time photographer at the Institute and he really liked my portfolio. So he encouraged me to display my work, which was terrific because usually the show was reserved for "real" artists from all over Europe. This was not only surprising but actually very successful for me and got me my first "exposure".

I "switched" to the Scanning Electron Microscope or SEM (REM in German) in 2005 (I of course still enjoy normal photography). This started literally the day after I finished my thesis. You see there was a company here in the area that really needed some technical support. They wanted several large color SEM pictures, but of course SEM only provides black and white pictures.

Still, they knew I had a science background and was also interested in photography, so they thought maybe I could support them in generating some nice colored SEM pictures. So the minute I successfully closed out my PhD studies in molecular biology, I started both with them and also with my post-doc here in Basel.

Had you worked with SEM techniques before that?

Only once during my diploma work. My research was about bats and specifically their hair structures. So that was my first experience with SEM imaging.

When we started the project though, several pictures had to be finished quickly because they had an important project to complete. So it was very much "learning by doing". But despite the urgency, I found I liked it so much that I found myself really addicted to this method.

So I kept making more pictures and really tried to improve my work. I also definitely have to add that it would have not been possible for the support that the University of Basel (ZMB) gave me at that time, for which I'm still very grateful.

As you indicated, SEM generates only "black and white" pictures, obviously with many shades of grey. How do you ultimately then convert these to make colored pictures?

When I was asked to do color SEM's, my initial task was to explain that all we would get from the instrument were black and white pictures. I had to make it clear that any coloration would have to literally be made by hand.

In these first cases, we were under such tremendous time pressure that I didn't have the opportunity to learn coloration methods like a typical graphic designer might use. I just had to basically jump in and rush the project through, but it did allow me to develop a very unique method that I was glad worked quite well.

I've seen you don't like to give out details to your exact method.

That's right, I like to keep this my "little secret." Really though, anyone could do this I think. But it is of course an advantage to be familiar with biology and also it does take an incredible amount of patience. I think that's where my design talent is really helped a lot, in that I am a very patient person. Also I'm really quite a perfectionist, so having patience is a must.

I've heard that one design can take up to 100 hours to complete?

Yes, sometimes when I combine several scans that have views of different "areas" of a subject, that is to make a larger "landscape" view, the coloration can be an incredibly detailed task. Basically, the more details I want to illustrate, the longer the process takes.

But I try to find time wherever I can to work a little, even on the tram on the way to work or the train ride down a little south of here on my way to the SEM lab.

Your father is also interested in photography. Why did he wait so long to give you a camera?

Well, my father does enjoy photography and although he's very good, he only considers it his hobby. In terms of giving me – and my sister – a good camera, I think he really wanted to wait until the digital technology reached a point where I could really benefit from it.

It worked out really well though because with digital you have such freedom and you can learn very quickly by trial-and-error. I was able to not only experiment a lot and try different things in a relatively short amount of time but at much lower costs than with "traditional" film-based photography.

You say its beneficial for your design that you are "well-versed" in a number of scientific areas. I want to list these for our audience, because I understand this includes studies in marine biology, zoology, botany, anthropology, paleontology, as well as behavioral and evolutionary biology, all of which has lead eventually to your role as "investigator" of molecular and cell biology.

Okay, with this amazing resume in mind, is the reverse true, namely, does being a "micronaut" help your work at the University?

Oh yes. At the moment, for example, I'm working on a project looking at prostrate cancer and particularly in those cases where it returns even after initially successful treatments. We have found a gene that is highly amplified in recurrent cancers. This gene seems to play an important role in prostate cancer progression. Of course we want to learn more about its function and hopefully finally use it as a target and "knock it out", that is, develop a successful therapy and ultimately help pave the way to a cure.

As fate would have it, one of the effects we do see after artificial "deactivation" of this gene is that the cell shape changes depending on the success of a treatment.

As such, it's possible to use the same technique as my design work to explore and document this effect as the research team's work progresses.

Can you describe a bit about your actual design process?

So much comes from the coloration, which in my eyes is really the beginning of designing an image. If I were to show you the original black and white scans vs. the colored versions of a given photo, it would evoke a very different reaction and have a completely different effect for you. It's a totally different world.

I think this is because humans see everything around them in full color. So the images only first come to life with the color. And it can change so much with the color in terms of what we see and the emotions we feel. The entire impression of the image may change considerably with even subtle color variation, even if the light is "coming" from the left or the right can be extremely important (I have to ultimately imitate the effects of lighting). Again, I'm a perfectionist, so I really try to do my best to truly represent what the image is portraying.

Preparation is also very important, because it represents the basis of every final image. Especially in the case of smaller the objects, for example, if you look at different bacteria living in our stomachs or even much more sensitive life forms (e.g. fresh water bacteria), they are so very fragile and can be destroyed only by the slightest differences or defects in the preparation process. As such, sometimes a lot of trial and error is needed to finally get suitable high-quality SEM-scans for the coloration process.

One of the main reasons you have to be so extremely careful is because SEM requires that the sample contains no water, otherwise it would create a bad image and maybe damage the very expensive equipment as well.

Is the preparation part of the art for you?

The preparation is a very challenging part from the technical viewpoint and is certainly of fundamental importance in the overall process from a scientific point of view.

However, art has a lot to do with freedom and my freedom begins once I have managed to produce a technically flawless image from a well-preserved and hopefully interesting sample.

What criteria do you use to pick your different subjects to photograph?

At the beginning, I just found so many things interesting, both from my work, as well as things I would literally find in my own back yard.

For me, the effect is like flying through a range of microscopic mountains in a helicopter, or even scuba diving through mysterious deep-sea valleys teeming with unknown life. There's just so much of this "landscape" that I want to explore.

But of course you get a lot of bad samples, too. For example, the leaf of a salad is 98% water and it has to be dried and prepared accordingly, that is, trying to keep the cells in their original form. Again, the SEM "camera" is such an expensive piece of equipment that it requires great care.

But still, the coloration is so very important to achieving the best designs, so I really take the time to ensure I have the best possible sample. Too often, you have even "technical artifacts" that – without going into too much detail – can even cause very "bright" areas to appear. This can even destroy the sample, which occurs when the SEM beam doesn't detect the right "balance" of returning electrons.

The bottom-line is that it just takes patience, patience, and more patience.

What do you experience when looking at something for the first time on a microscopic level vs. a macroscopic level?

Sometimes of course you detect things that were not at all expected. This is such a thrill.

In the beginning of my work, this was the case all the time – well at least it was when everything lined up, namely that I had good samples and the technique worked well. But there were a lot of disappointments, too, and it was very time consuming in terms of number of hours spent working compared to the number of useable pictures I was generating.

What did you learn from your first illustrations or even some of those first mistrials?

Now I conduct in fact quite a lot of research on my "subject" before I start the design process. I try to have a plan in mind what kind of unique aspects I'm looking for that will ultimately create the most beautiful image.

Even then of course you can still get many surprises and get something very beautiful. I often find that the available literature and research about a given subject – be it pollen grains, or butterfly wings or whatever – will not even be fully able to explain some of the things I see and illustrate.

How much of this work comes from carefully aiming your "camera" at a given target vs. let's say, chancing upon an interesting view?

Of course chance plays a big role. For example, "finding" the picture shown above with the one piece of willow pollen "peaking out" from the flower was just a fantastic experience. This view illustrates not only important scientific aspects but really seems to jump out of the picture, almost like something being born saying to us, "hello world, here I am."

Sometimes my pictures can have a "double-meaning" for the viewer and this can also be a real treat, even if it's a piece of pollen that seems to be saying "kiss me" or something that evokes other images in our minds.

Your work features a variety of different objects, including both inorganic and organic subjects. Do you have a preference?

My main target is above all else creating innovative images of beautiful things that include portraits of "creatures" or other objects that most people will never have the opportunity to see during their lives, obviously because these objects are too small to be "discovered" in this way by the naked eye. Therefore, I like to share my unique and unforgettable encounters with a well-educated and constantly curious audience.

Still, I do like to focus on the "organic" world, because I guess the microcosm for me is filled with so much life and offers so many breathtaking views. I really believe it well worth being deeply and profoundly explored, and I'm only all too happy to be doing this.

How much do you go out and look for "subjects" or how much is by chance?

At the beginning I tried many different things that I came across. But soon I realized that not everything is suitable for this approach. So I began to think more and more about the subject before I started. After finding a subject attractive to me, as mentioned I usually conduct a lot of research and try to complete even a "series" of images within a certain topic. This helps me really push forward my explorations and again find the best images for my audience.

Even though I do spend a lot of time now doing research, I still like to try other samples I find, for example, on my way even to work with the microscope. Although it may not happen very often vs. my "targeted" searches, these samples I pick up can be really great and make my day!

What is your design process when working with various products?

A key aspect of my different product offers and the various professional jobs I've worked on is that the image has to "fit" within the scope of the purpose of the design.

For example, with the special edition side-tables, I came into contact with a young and talented designer in Basel (
Bernard Strub) who was interested in collaborating with me to use my images in his own designs. But we agreed, the furniture had to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

We ran lots of tests and really even tried to "destroy" each design model to make sure it was not only attractive but sturdy. Ultimately we settled on the form you see on my web-site, printing my designs then directly onto the wood and protecting the image with several layers of clear fixative for extra protection and a nice attractive finish.

How do you decide one of your designs is "finished"?

As always in my work, I try lots of things. With everything I do, I make different "previews" in terms of styles or color combinations. The decision to move forward has to come from a "gut reaction" that something works. Especially for my scientific work, the input and discussions with other scientists and area specialists is very important.

I also like to get input from my friends and family and luckily for me, my girlfriend is actually a very bright scientist, too. So, whenever I have difficulties, it's pretty easy to get a qualified opinion.

You seem to have a terrific balance between your work at the University and your work for the SEM provider. How do you manage this?

Well, in large part I am very lucky. In both cases, I am very pleased to say I have very good bosses who support me professionally and creatively.

Concerning my colleagues, both at the Institute of Pathology, University Hospital, Basel and the SEM providers, Prüftechnik Uri GmbH (PTU) and Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Dep. Life Sciences, Muttenz (FHNW), I can't say "thank you" enough. Everyone has been so terrific to me. Additionally, as I said my friends, family and my girlfriend support me so much as well. Sorry, this may sound like an award speech, but it does mean a lot to me and it's of highest importance to my work.

Of course, I have to also invest a lot of time, energy and hard work in keeping everything working and not getting exhausted in the process – but I am very aware that without a good team you can't get anywhere!

But clearly, I would not feel right using either the labs at the Institute or the SEM equipment unless I was able to give something back to both groups.

For your coloration, do you try to be as true to nature as you can be or do you try different combinations to try and better illustrate an aspect of your design?

Yes, I do try to be true to nature's colors or let's say the scientifically relevant standards.

Take for example my illustrations of the butterfly wing. First, the scales you see are so wonderful, with layers and layers of little "winglets" coming together to create these fragile yet amazingly aerodynamic structures.

The yellow-brown combination is very accurate for the butterfly itself, which one of our cats, Herbert, kindly "provided" me from our garden. However, when I looked at the pictures, as a full-blooded biologist, I was struck by these very strange structures between the scales that you can see that appear to almost look like dust or even pollen particles.

I later consulted with a specialist in this field in Basel (Prof. Andreas Ehrhardt), and he indicated that it is not entirely clear what these structures do. It is believed that they are involved in releasing pheromones or even amplifying the release of these chemicals which are of course critical for attracting mates. Or they may (also) play a role in the aerodynamics of the butterfly, similar to a jet wing when landing, namely that the surface area is increased so that the plane can descend at a slower speed and more softly, but obviously without suddenly crashing to the ground.

So even after generating this image, I'm still very interested in discovering more. I definitely want to look at more samples, including not only male butterflies but also females and compare different parts of the wings. I want to know if both males and females have this structure or even something similar? It's not clear. So that's how I came to the second picture, that uses two very complimentary shades of blue along with the bright yellow colored structures.

In the first picture, you don't focus on these as they're somewhat grey and meld in more with the surrounding colors of the winglets. I guess you could say that the colors for the second picture that I've chosen are "fantasy" colors, but with this design, it helps the eye focus on these very special and even somewhat mysterious parts.

It's somehow the "incorrect" color but at the same time it's a very scientific way to look at it. I believe its similar to what we see in anatomy or medical books all the time. For example, blood vessels and arteries are always artificially painted red or blue, although this is not accurate. But if the artist were to use green and yellow, you would think he was crazy and even so, if he used the "real" colors, a great deal of the important information would be "lost".

When you create a design for a customer, do you always stick strictly to the customer's specifications?

(Laughs) That is indeed an interesting question. Let's put it this way: I always try my best to make sure that the designs and illustrations are very appealing and meet the needed criteria. Still, perhaps the customer is looking for something very specific, say for something "blue". Well, this is okay, too, in that I still have a lot of freedom to choose harmonic colors and to use the techniques I'm familiar with.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule and occasionally you come across "particular" customers who may have a highly specific passion, for example, for really limited the colors. There are times – obviously not only in my work but in general – when customers want to dictate every step of the process, instead of profiting from a specialist's creativity, knowledge and experience.

Don't misunderstand me, please. It has nothing to do with my awards or rising confidence or anything, but in such a case it becomes extremely difficult to produce high-quality results. Or, to formulate it as a question: would you really be convinced that it would be to your advantage to advise your dentist on what he has to do next? I'm not so sure...

Can you describe a little more about your color selection technique?

At a first glance of an object, you can get a general idea of a color scheme. Sometimes I just let the colors flow and come out as I work. It's fun just to see where it takes me in terms of the vision of the design that I had originally.

But for so much of what I look at, I really can't always pre-select the colors. Sometimes it's even the case that a great deal of the object is transparent, especially for cellular structures. Or the "green" we see in nature is really made of many different colored parts that we either can't see with the naked eye or just never expected at all.

Of course, getting back to working with customers: if they want or need a given color, I'll try and work with them. But still, I really need that high level of confidence that it works.

But as any designer will tell you, working with customers can also provide a breath of fresh air into one's own activities!

Of the different design products you offer, which media do you prefer to work with?

I produce some fine art prints and also as you see really nice quality post cards and calendars, and enjoy each of these very much.

But what I really like is to produce large high-quality prints, because that's what I always have in my mind when I'm working. So creating posters for conferences or other large displays is really a treat for me.

How involved are you in the actual "mass-scale" production of your designs?

I have a very good printer for the finer prints I want to produce (Stefan Probst). I'm also able to try with him different methods and techniques to see what works best to reach my targets.

Stefan is also very interested in trying new and experimental techniques. Plus, he works very precisely and exact as well. This is extremely important if you are producing fine art.

Have you ever considered adding other aspects to your graphic designs, for example, using inks that contribute more texture, or even other effects such as sparkle or reflectivity?

Not yet. But I've once seen some work done with silver embossed lettering that was very nice.

There's also a very good Swiss magazine that I like (animan) that uses lot's of different textures in their illustrations and especially cover work, including combining bright sections with matte backgrounds, which really makes the pictures jump out at the viewer. I'd definitely like to experiment more and more in this direction as time or my assignments permit.

I also have colleagues who are also involved in both design and photography that I talk to that help me come up with different options for my illustrations.

Do you do something to emphasize the texture of your works? For example, some of your works have a very wood-like quality, or convey an oily surface, or other very unique surface textures.

The use of shadowing in my work is very important. Most often, I "add" the shadowing typically at the end of the design process, particularly to highlight differences in various aspects or bodies within the picture. Also, if I don't like the choice of lighting, I might work to enhance the texture through by emphasizing with shadows.

Sometimes the texture just comes out owing to the subject matter. Take example my pictures of jumping spiders. These guys are really cute. For example, they have eyebrows similar to humans, even though in this case, their eyebrows go all the way around their eyes. And what's so interesting to me is that the structures of these hairs are totally different than those found on either their legs or their bodies.

For example, when I looked at a fly's eye vs. a mosquito's eye, I was totally surprised at the structures and textures. Before you put them in the microscope, you either learn things from studies or even realize them "intuitively". In these cases, you can see that a fly "aims" much more when it flies, vs. a mosquito that just sort of floats about, especially if there is some wind where it has obviously much less control. Also, the mosquito is naturally much more active at night compared to the fly.

What you see then through the "micronaut" process is that the mosquito has in fact gaps between the individual eyelets, whereas a fly's eye is a much more evenly fitted collection of "parts". So the vision of the mosquito is much less refined vs. the fly.

Also, with the fly, the "closer" I got I was amazed to see that among their well-defined sponge-like eye structures that there were everywhere little hairs. But what are these hairs used for? Keeping the eyes clean? Or are they used to detect flight velocity or even changes in the wind? Or do they have a combination of different functions? It's not known for sure.

It's simply so fascinating in that if I have a picture of various insects' eyes and have these details to texture, I can tell from their "design" alone more about how well they "see", how this quite possibly influences how they fly and how they interact with the world around them.

You seem to have a real interest in the aspects between types of seemingly similar organisms. How did this arise?

During my studies, I had a great professor for evolutionary biology, Professor Steve Stearns. His lectures were really terrific.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about all kinds of these biological processes and was fascinated with how nature evolves and adapts over time. It does take so long for an "improvement" to show up in a species, certainly over many many generations, but it's fascinating to look at the different steps up close.

The 'design by nature' aspect of my work and studies fascinates me very much. Of course, it's exciting to find out more about the "why", that is, the processes that have led to these fantastic structures. It's something that is always on my mind during my "exploration" when I'm sitting at the microscope.

What is the smallest size of an object you've analyzed?

Well, the smallest pollen in the world is from the "forget-me-not" and that measures about 6 microns across. Compared to a human hair, which is typically 40 to 300 microns in diameter or a grain of sand which can range between 100 to 2'000 microns in size, that's pretty small. But pollen from a pumpkin is 250 microns in size, so obviously nature provides an enormous amount of variety in terms of size or shape or many other aspects to enjoy.

Also, I've recently been taking pictures of Streptococcus bacteria for a pending article, and these are typically 200 – 400 NANOmeters in size.

I will say though that at this stage with the SEM equipment I'm using, it's very difficult to get a sharp picture the smaller the object is and is obviously then even more of a challenge to get the design in the form you want it to be in.

How many variations do you try before you finish a design?

Well, sometimes the first trial comes out "pretty good". But most images involve really an evolution over time.

I'll often try different several variations, for example, red- or green-shaded versions of a given object. What's important though again is to work with colors that bring out the natural aspects of the object, if not the actual color itself.

For example, I had one piece that I eventually used varying shades of yellow. At first, I thought this would be totally wrong and unappealing, but in the end it really expressed best not only what I was trying to capture but the quite different aspects of the item itself. I was surprised but ultimately very pleased with the end result and had a terrific time "discovering" all that I did in this picture.

What's the primary target you're trying to achieve with your coloration?

What's very important is that I try to "give back" life to the grey pictures that the SEM provides. I also have to re-illuminate different aspects and even textures that the preparation process can take away or make less sharp.

Take for example the picture of the willow pollen shown above. In Switzerland, you have two types of willow, one that blooms very nicely at lower altitudes and one at higher locations. The plants found at lower elevations are fertilized then by insects, but the ones in the mountains depend on wind for fertilization, because its usually too cold during the same time that both types bloom.

As I've learned then, usually plants that rely on insects for fertilization have a very "sticky" pollen so that it can be easily attached to the insect's legs or other body parts. These plants even produce lower amounts but larger sizes of pollen vs. their mountainous cousins. The way I think about it, is that this is because the plant is "sure" it will land in the right place, because insects like bee's go from one plant to the same type of plant depending on the time of the year.

However, if the pollen depends on the wind to be transported, it has to be lighter or smaller, as well as drier. It also can't be sticky or it wouldn't travel (e.g. if it hits the ground or sticks together with other pollen). So in this case, my technique also requires that this design reflects a texture of "stickiness" that you can see on the pollen's surface.

Where do you see your work going in the next years?

Well, I see the very good balance between my scientific work and my design continuing to grow. I also think for science its very important to have an image that really helps get a message across, as well as aiding research of course. It's important though to have a good picture that helps spread information more to people that might otherwise be "turned off" by scientific input.

With my design, I'm always anyway working on 4 or 5 projects in parallel at the same time. If one then strikes me as very interesting, like what I've been doing recently with pollen or bacteria, and I think this is really fascinating and something the world hasn't seen this yet, then I'll really try and concentrate for a while on this area. This could be a project then that lasts for many months, especially if I'm doing it initially for myself and not as a specific assignment.

But again, I really feel that this helps get this information out as it brings to life so much scientific information that could accompany perhaps much more technical results, including to people that might not normally be interested in such fields. In so many ways, I want to continue to be able to sensitize people to the beautiful things around us.

I also want to continue to focus on scientific, problematic areas especially for special design projects. I quite enjoy also working with other designers or people needing in thinking up ways of illustrating my works.

Looking further down the road, how do you see your design process evolving?

I see my work developing as the science of imaging and microscopic techniques improve. I want to expand in the near future to atomic force level images and highly sophisticated light microscopic (type) images. This will actually then begin to take us down to the level of seeing individual atoms or even illustrate objects that are only truly visible through other energy types, including fluorescent light.

One of the drawbacks naturally is that these new technologies are very expensive and I may have to wait a while to get my first images successfully produced. But my balance of science and design interests keeps me going and really looking forward to the next steps in the technology.

What for you would be the "Holy Grail" in terms of a design topic? What would you most like to photograph in the world?

It's really hard to say, because there are so many possibilities. I'm interested for example in photographing newly discovered life forms, particularly new oceanic discoveries of different types of fish or plankton. But our universe – be it macro or micro – is so interesting, it's difficult to imagine what might be waiting out there.

What would you say to someone getting started out in design?

Well, if someone asked the question, I would assume they were already interested in art and design, and had some idea if their work was any good. So I'd say "focus on the most important aspects of your designs, work hard, and 'move your cheese' (which actually a very good friend of mine once said to me)" and everything should work out.

How about your shows at the Restaurant Union and also at the Pricewaterscooper Headquarters in Basel? How much preparation do shows like this take? Has it been an overwhelming process or do you really enjoy it?

Oh I've definitely enjoyed myself. Sure its a lot of work and there have been a lot of long nights in the past weeks and months, but its a very fun process. Putting together my favorite pictures for the past 12 months has been amazing. Also, especially seeing so many of my new pictures coming out of the printer for the first time in fine art or poster forms so that I can finally touch them ... well, its perhaps not the same feeling as becoming a father, but for me I think it must certainly be in this direction...

Of course, a lot of the extra work for the show comes because of my sense of perfectionism. For example, my girlfriend doesn't understand sometimes because she'll see me work for hours and hours into the night and doesn't really see what it is I'm changing. But again, for me every pixel has to be just right before I'm satisfied with the final design, because the pictures I produce aren't made for (small) monitors, but for large formats and especially for prints.

For sure, I also hope the audience likes what I do. If people like my work, sure, it's a big motivation to do more, but it's not the only reason I want to continue my work. That comes from my own fascination and enthusiasm.

So, I'm looking forward to seeing my pictures displayed and have to say that I'm pretty relaxed.

Getting away for a moment from the "micro-cosmos": you also feature a number of pictures on your web-site that include musicians. Does music play an important role in your work and your life?

Well, a lot of my pictures are of a band called "Jungle Boy". One of the guys in the band is an old friend of mine that in fact some years ago studied biology with me. He changed his studies though after a while to focus on his music, and we actually lost contact for a few years. He's a great musician and has really been the talent behind a lot of different bands, also traveling to different countries on tour.

There's a funny story to all this though: after not seeing him for years, I actually saw him in Basel one day just playing with some friends, you know, jamming out in public. I didn't come up to him but as I always take my camera with me, I began taking pictures of him and the band while still not letting him see me. Then, I burned the pictures onto a CD and mailed them to him to say "Hi!".

He was totally surprised and really happy with what I sent him. Since then, I've done some photography for his band, including in concert. So now I'm kind of the de facto "official photographer" of the group, which has been really fun. They're also a great bunch of guys and I really like their music.

Martin, if you could do anything else besides work in biology or design and photography, what would it be and why?

It's really hard to say. I've done other things in my life before I started either at the University and to be honest, I feel like I have only just started with my design and photography. I just happen to be very fortunate to find not one but two main areas in terms of work that on one hand "complete" each other and on the other hand that I also really enjoy.

I think though with my personality that whatever I was doing, I would try to enjoy my work as much as possible. But yes, I'd probably still be a perfectionist, too.


Martin’s photographs and design works have been featured on a number of conference posters, corporate brochures, calendars and greeting cards, magazine covers and even furniture. His clients and others that have used his works include Promega, LONZA, Swiss Biotech, FOCUS magazine, n-tv, Reader's Digest, various Swiss newspapers as well as TV shows, and many more.

For his design work, Martin has received several awards, including most recently first place in the 2008 international competition of the prestigious scientific magazine "The EMBO Journal" in the category of best scientific cover.

But as Martin himself confirms, it's not about winning awards that keeps him motivated to keep working often into the wee hours of the night. His latest works are on display at the PricewaterhouseCoopers main building in Basel, Switzerland (25 St. Jakobs-Strasse) until 15 August, 2008 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (including a special narrated show by Martin himself on 12.August from 5 - 6.30 p.m.), after a successful stop back in May 2008 at the Restaurant Union, also in Basel.


Additional Comments: some weeks after completing the interview with Martin, I finally got to see his printed “large version” works close up. I was literally blown away at the detail and sheer beauty of what he had created. Even some of the “ickiest” subject matters – molds and fungi for example – were full of not only artistic beauty but also a few into areas of nature and science I had never imagined. The detail and literally how the 3D views jumped out at you was just terrific. Amazing stuff for sure!

Additional links:

Martin would like to extend his thanks to the following institutes for their generous support:
Institute of Pathology, University Hospital, Basel
Prüftechnik Uri GmbH (PTU)
Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Dep. Life Sciences, Muttenz (FHNW)

Ziggy Nixon James Posey Martin Oeggerli Micronaut

July 24, 2008

Getting Started - or Why the Hell I'm Doing This

Hello World! Well after months of threatening everyone that I was going to get around to creating my own place to store my stuff on the INTERNET, I've finally taken the plunge. Thank goodness the Mrs. is out today with the kids or I'd still have excuses to avoid it.

So, a couple of questions to answer before we get going too far:

"What is my focus?"

Well, to be honest this is supposed to be a kind of bloggy thingie where I want to focus on creative people including artists, illustrators, logoists, designers, nudists (hello?), makers, etc. Granted I'm rather late in terms of getting "into the game" but what the hey, we can't all be Bill Gates.

What that has to do with blogging, I have no idea... but do try and cut me some slack, this is my first go at it...

"Why focus on the creative types?"

I actually started this at my old job a few months ago. I was spending a romantic weekend in Paris - that was given to me by my wife for Christmas - and decided to help out some pals at the office and attend the "Maison & Objet" Show.

So there I was alone in Paris (wait, wasn't this a romantic weekend given to me by my wife? More later... maybe) and I really found I enjoyed myself talking to the different folks strutting their stuff.

Plus as I'm able to utilize the one valuable skill I still have from High School, namely I can type really fast (like take dictation as someone talks ... also thanks in part to those damn piano lessons), I was able to bang out an interview or two in record time. And one thing led to another and here I am!

"But aren't you usually adverse to meeting new people?"

Who the hell is writing this anyway, my therapist? In answer to that question, yes, I am usually adverse to meeting new people. No, I can't be considered shy (shut up guys), but going out and getting to know new people has never been one of my strong suits.

But somehow I've found that through the interviews - both live and via email - that I've conducted over the past months has really helped me get past this. Plus, I find that I am just absolutely fascinated to talk to so many creative types across the globe. Plus-plus, the folks I've talked to so far have been without exception just really cool about the whole thing!

"Why the longer interview format vs. the usual 'quick fire' input you see on many 'design' blogs?"

I have absolutely no problem with most design blogs; in fact, its great how so many find so much terrific stuff so quickly and sometimes I wish myself that I was more comfortable with such a "brief" format. There are several that I cruise almost daily (I'll make a list in a few days, I promise) along with various more permanent like sites for getting tips and hoping to find a link within a link that leads me as well to my own next targets.

The only issue I do have is that after seeing say a one- or two-picture display by a given artist, a statement like "found this, thought it was cool", and maybe also visiting even their own web-sites or blogs, I always find that I want to learn more. A LOT more!!

So I figure, that's where I come in: I've decided then to do the digging or googling or whatever you call it. Then I ask what I hope are pretty good questions and try to put together something really unique about each person I'm talking to. In a lot of cases, there even seems to be a bit of relief that I'm not just putting together a synapsis (sic) of their own biographies.

And as a "disclaimer", two things:
  1. first, if you want to use these inputs for a term paper or something similar, don't. No, not because I'm a lawyer or my cousin's name is "Guido" (it's really "Knuckles McGullicutty") but because you just won't get a good grade.
  2. second, if there's ever a case you think something might be related to your own work, just let me know. But don't sue me, again not because of any legal training but because I'm actually really really poor. But getting back to the questions...
All kidding aside, I'm not adverse to "sharing" but as I do have agreements for images and stuff to think of, you are "politely requested" to take it up with me first. And link me up, too, my ego needs stroking as much as the next person's... ego that is.

"But why creative types and not, say, hot bikini models?"

Hm, never thought of it that way, perhaps owing to my total lack of experiencing meeting any hot bikini models (noting I was dressed as you see here well into adulthood ... but that was a damn cool lunchbox!!). All kidding aside, I guess you could say its in my blood. You see both of my parents are "artists" in one way or another (different types of architecture, painting, handicrafts, you name it, they're both disgustingly talented). Each attended design school and wound up one way or another spending the next years of their lives interested in art and design and even trying to make money with that.

Come with us now down memory road ...

In fact, after recently bringing it up with my Dad again after a few years back (namely when I learned lots of surprising details about my coming to be, only by getting Pop and one of his old school chums REALLY drunk) it seems I was - owing to being the first kid to be born to the design school group - considered a sort of "mascot" to the design group. And indeed over the next many years, despite my adolescently required moaning and groaning, I myself learned a bit about the arts and such.

Continuing then with this long-winded tome, the years passed, as they tend to do and along came high school (I'm now talking about me by the way, if all these prepositions are getting too messed up). We used to have to take this test called the CAT (California Appitude Test I believe) and mine came out with a score of 92 for the sciences and 91 for the arts (and also a warning to never, ever go into any kind of field where I'd have to care for people or be allowed to touch their bodies in ANY way). Well, that was no help and there I sat for the next months wondering where to go next.

So it was my junior year I believe when one of the local Universities toured our high school and gave a demonstration on of all things the science of dyes, pigments and essentially color science (ever wondered why blue jeans are blue? That sort of thing). I was immediately smitten and not the "hand of God" type smitten (or is that smited?) either. I could combine my interest in the arts - drawing those huge organic molecules was like drafting together a plan for a new downtown office complex - and also science. Plus, it gave a young kid with a tendency to get really distracted more of a focus to be involved in a specific area of sciences, vs. just "chemistry" in general. The fact that this industry is now totally dead outside of China is irrelevant.

Later on this know-how would lead to me re-enlisting and staying a few more wonderful albeit very poor years in college, which then landed me on the shores of Europe. Now in nearly the 18th year of an 18 month assignment, I'm out and about looking for other ways to entertain myself (see earlier comment about a dead industry) but as this could turn into an adult-rated biography with lots of naughty words rather quickly, I'll stop here.

So here I find myself trying to put together rather "vicarious" inputs from folks that did indeed take the plunge to be more creative than myself (adding as well that with the exception of writing, I do tend to be rather lazy). And ergo and to the extent thereof, here we are.

Enjoy!! I know I have and will continue to do so. I hope you'll agree with me that this wonderful set of people I've gotten to "know" so far are really neato and cool and all that. And I can't wait to meet even more!

Ciao for now... and in order to keep peace in my own house, here's a couple of pictures of my "critters"...

thank goodness they don't look like their old man, eh?

Ziggy Nixon James Posey Design Chemistry