Bristol and Me: Richard Courtiour


We speak to Richard Courtiour, founder of Microslide Art

Microslide Art offers photographic images taken through a microscope and printed up to hang on the wall. Microscopes and prepared slides were very big business during the Victorian era.

It was the height of Empire, you had all this fascinating material coming in from all over the planet to put on slides: parts of plants, rock, chemicals, fish scales, crystals, geological sections, flower buds, plankton, pollen. Under the microscope, with the right lighting, they make gorgeous images, as you can see on the website; they’re essentially abstract images, all very organic.

Besides art it’s science you’re putting on your wall, and history. It’s very important to me that I tell the story of where an image has come from. 

I think the old microscopes – polished brass from the 1870s/80s – are fantastic pieces of engineering. Nothing is moulded, there’s no plastic, it’s all individual parts screwed together, beautifully engineered with a craftsmanship that’s absolutely lacking today. They would have been for the middle classes, with costs very much beyond the working man.

I remember the first time I looked at something under a microscope, it was some sort of parasite, an evil-looking thing – you could barely see there was anything on the slide. I quite quickly ran out of things to look at but knew you could buy professionally prepared old slides, so bought some at an auction. 

I’d harboured the art idea a long time before I did anything about it. When I thought I had enough images I printed a few up, framed them, and ran them past a few people – am I mad or does this look quite nice on the wall? General opinion was it looked good, really unique. I’ve got more than 17,000 slides, the bulk of them Victorian. I’d guess it’s really only one in three or four hundred that really jumps out at me as worthy of printing up. I’ve not found anything in the natural world that I don’t have a microscope slide of.

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