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News & Insight

Photography That Puts Castles On A Grain Of Sand

By Kishore Sawh on March 30th 2014


You are intelligent. You appreciate the morning paper, even if it’s digital. You watch documentaries about insects, and wouldn’t kick sand in an aggressor’s face, but rather disarm them with a timely quote by Walt Whitman. You understand that there is a value in doing what hasn’t been done before, and see the broader implications of doing what may seem trivial to some, you’ll be impressed with that is presented here.

Drawing a castle on a single grain of sand, while ironically humorous, is actually a great metaphor for modern technology; Apple springs to mind. That underneath a thin veneer of simplicity, hides mountains of tech and forward thinking. It took 4 years of effort for artist and photographer Vik Muniz and his colleague artist/researcher Marcelo Coelho to succeed in their endeavor to etch opulent castles onto microscopic grains of sand. It’s a role reversal and name play on the ‘sand castle.’



Trillions of grains of sand make up a cubic meter of beach, each hardly discernible from the other, and generally unappreciated as individual pieces of earth. This is partially why Muniz chose them as a medium. He is know for pieces that flip perspectives, usually involving enormous drawings that can only be appreciated from certain vantage points; such as hundred meter long drawings that seem nothing more than dug up dirt, until viewed from a chopper. This challenge was less the opposite, as it was a different side of the same coin. He aimed to make a drawing that was minuscule and monumental.

[REWIND: Photoshop Composite Of 300+ Hours & 1000 Layers|Whimsical New York]



Muniz sought the help of Coelho and the duo came up with a process that would allow their idea to materialize. Using old technology such as a lucida camera (not really a camera at all, but rather a device which is almost like a teleprompter for tracing an image in front of you onto a paper beneath you), and modern tech such as a Focused Ion Beam typically used for fixing micro-circuitry, they managed to complete their task. It was time intensive to find the right microscopic drawing process, especially considering the result desired, and that a single pixel, at this magnification, is about 50 nanometers wide.

See the video from a great breakdown of just how it all was achieved. When asked why he chose sand castles to begin with Muniz says,

I rely on images that are simple, that you’ve seen a million times… You think you know it but then you have to know it again…When someone tells you it’s a grain of sand, there’s a moment where your reality falls apart and you have to reconstruct it. You have to step back and ask what the image is and what it means.

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Coelho believes this to be a photographic project and he feels photography is actually just re-starting. He feels that with the combination of technology, computers, and cameras, that new types of storytelling, and narratives, can take place. I don’t foresee this becoming a new trend, but I appreciate that it can be done, and has been. We never really know just how once new foray is going to create the next.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Brandon Dewey

    Cool BTS video

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