Kevin MacKenzie – Photography Under The Microscope


The speaker Kevin MacKenzie can best be described as not one of the usual circuit speakers. Neither was he a ballet dancer or an international rugby player. Kevin has worked in the Microscopy and Histology Dept at Aberdeen University and his theme for his talk was ‘Photography under the Microscope’.

Kevin started at the University in 1979 when many of the resources for taking images were very rudimentary compared to the advances which have taken place over the next 40 years. The use of microscopes has been around a very long time. The extension of recording images with a camera and a microscope has developed from the early production of 4×4 plates from 120mm BW film. Through scanning methods and an electron microscope in the 80s and early 90s. The monochrome image provided a far higher resolution and was subsequently given a false colour.

In 1994 a 35mm camera was attached was automated and could take images in both BW and colour. On into 2000 and Polaroid introduced a colour digital camera which was followed by a Nikon Coolpix, with so much detail available and the ability to ad captions to the images. The improvements in image capture was massive. This advance did come at cost. In the 80s the kit required cost 5 to 6k. The introduction of the first Polaroid digital camera for a light microscope raised the cost to 10k.

With the increased technology and the ability to magnify x 80,000 also came at a price. A Zeiss unit with 8149 x 6144 resolution creating 48mb images will cost 500k. The detail production in taking an image of this quality can take up to 90 minutes.

All through his talk, Kevin displayed an array of images from the early years right through to his current work. Many of his images have been chosen for awards by the Welcome Foundation and have appeared on the front of medical journals.

The images Kevin displayed included, a Moth Fly, a squid embryo, muscle fibre, a brain slice, a fruit fly, a needle and thread, air bubbles, water flea, Venus fly trap pollen grain, a head louse clinging to human hair, vitamin C and even his own Kidney stone. Which he then used the image to create a 3D replica.

Recently there has been news of cat mummies found in a new tomb in Egypt. It was therefore fitting Kevin should end his talk with images using laser equipment of the skeletal detail inside of a mummified cat, without having had to remove the retaining cloth.

Kevin was most informative and entertaining, outlining a very detailed and absorbing side of photography.