An Intimate Expanse
with Danny sanchez
Framing the spaces between the known and the unknown, gemologist and artist, Danny J Sanchez subverts scale, depth, and composition to expose whole worlds in imperceptibly small places.
Danny J Sanchez is a Los Angeles-based gemologist and artist. Graduating from the Gemological Institute of America and self-taught in the art of photomicrography, Danny leverages his gemological knowledge with his finely-tuned photography skills to expose imagery that is, at once, otherworldly and intimately known. Floating on the edge of the horizon and unable to look away, Danny has created a body of work that makes mountains from fragments of quartz and finds Aurora Borealis in Mexican opal.
Holding whole worlds in his own hands, Danny aims to immerse viewers in the same experience he gets when he looks through a microscope—the feeling of discovery and the overwhelming humility that comes with staring at nature, laid bare, in all its incalculable capacity. Twisting and turning specimens, fumbling with different lighting, and checking every conceivable angle, Danny unveils the secrets hidden within each stone—capturing a moment in time and leaving us all to catch our breath.
↥ Biotite in topaz—Brazil.
My pursuit of gemstone inclusion photomicrography began exactly as it sounds—using a microscope and camera. I wanted to photograph the incredibly small minerals that are trapped within gemstones. Not for the purpose of building a catalog or to add to some pool of scientific documentation, but because the process simply elicited something electric inside of me.
This is one of my earlier photomicrographs. It depicts a chaotic scene inside blue topaz from Brazil, a streamlined stack of amber coloured biotite is frozen, mid-journey through a collision of minerals that formed hundreds of millions of years ago.
↥ Golden rutile in quartz—Brazil
There are certain inclusions and mineral associations that beg to be photographed. This trio of golden rutile on hematite in quartz is prized in the mineral community for its dynamic aesthetic. When I acquire a specimen like this, I wanted to get it under a microscope immediately, for fairly obvious reasons.
This Brazilian specimen yielded a fairly larger shot than usual at 14.4mm. While I didn’t know it at the time, it was leading me towards seeing the subjects less as 'one thing inside another' and more as a whole space to be captured.
Many times, I’ve caught had to catch my breath when lighting a specimen or looking through the microscope at something unique. It still happens. This image, however, brought me far beyond that. When I first took this image, I stared at the screen for several minutes, not wanting to move—as if blinking or turning away would make it disappear.
I was proud, but I was also scared. What scared me was that this image really showed the potential of the medium I was working in, validating what I had hoped to be true all along: I can subvert scale and turn the inner world of gemstones into a new type of landscape photography.
↥ Boulder opal—Australia
I had this boulder opal from Queensland Australia in my possession for almost 10 years before I had the guts to shoot it.
The “play of colour” phenomenon in opals is truly magical and trying to get it to behave as you experiment with different lighting environments is difficult, to say the least. However, the pairing of these ephemeral light strokes set against a rugged backdrop is one of the more dynamic sights I’ve discovered in all of my time behind the microscope—it couldn’t be more worthwhile.
↥ Stop motion video + image—Iridescent opal, Mexico
In microscopy there is barely any discernible depth of field. So in order to really convey depth in my work, I use a process called “focus stacking”. Simply put, this entails taking many photos in a sequence, all at incremental focal distances. Specialised software then takes those images and merges them to create a sense of depth. It’s sort of like taking a panorama, where you take several photos, all side by side then stitch them together to make one long photo.
This stop motion video illustrates just how many photos I might take of one scene in order to find the right depth. Here is a sequence of 250 images as I focus deeper into this iridescent opal from Mexico. The images are taken at 0.01mm (10 microns) apart.
↥ Opal in matrix—Mexico
Mostly, I shoot gemstone inclusions because I’m trying to capture the feeling of being inside the microscope and being inside the stone. Floating through these stones, I’m looking to capture a moment. It’s the kind of moment that puts a hitch in my breath. The things I shoot are already so extraordinary, I have to work to find a scene within them that makes that externally apparent.
↥ Sapphire—Sri Lanka
I think if the general public knew what was happening inside their sapphire or opal ring on their own finger, it would blow their mind. There are all these other dimensions within our own—perfectly frozen, floating in the spaces not much larger than a pinhead.
↥ Opal—Jalisco, Mexico
Staring into these stones fills me with awe and a sense of discovery. I’m always looking for the next “gasp” moment or for something I’ve never seen. It’s the surge of giddy excitement you get from seeing the Milky Way or the Northern Lights for the first time, or the first time you look through a telescope at the surface of the moon.
↥ Opal—Magdalena, Jalisco, Mexico.
Midway through my year of shooting opals from Mexico, I came across a color pattern so unique and so elusive that it took me several weeks of trial and error to capture. The blue and purple, hiding in the depths of the background only add to a truly bizarre and wonderful find.