“Purple’s my favorite color!”

CELL_167_2.c1.indd

Magazine
Cell
October 6, 2016
Volume 167, Issue 2

My Reaction
I was initially drawn to this image because of the colors. The deep blue-violet and yellow-green is really captivating. However, to me, this visual— a microscopic image of some kind of bacteria or other organism — epitomizes the field of science. It makes me think of using a microscope and looking at biology slides in high school and exploring a whole new world — one we can’t even see with the naked eye. The photo points to an unexplored facet of life — an unknown. Science seeks to answer questions we pose about life, and that’s what this image seems to do. It forces you to wonder what this is: Is this a dangerous, disease-causing bacteria? Where can it be found? What is it doing? The colors grab your attention, but it’s the mysterious content of the image that keeps you looking or reading further to discover what exactly it is.

Image Explanation
This image is actually an electron micrograph of a protozoan (Trichomonas musculis) found in the intestines of a mouse. This particular organism was recently discovered to inhabit the digestive tract of mammals. It acts as an antibiotic to prevent bacterial infections; however the inflammation it causes to fight the infection may increase the risk of colon cancer or colitis. It was artificially colored to show how closely the protozoan interacts with the other bacteria and the host tissue.

Stranger Reaction
I printed out my image and took it to a restaurant, then asked a woman how the image made her feel, what she thought it was about, and an overall reaction to the image. Immediately she said it reminded her of the sea. She kept saying it was very pretty and reminded her of coral or amoebas in water with rocks in the background and leaves around the image. She said she felt calm when looking at the image, even commenting, “I love purple! It’s my favorite color!” When asking her to elaborate further on what she thought the image was, she talked about how it seems alive, the “coral” was feeding off the water, and the entire tone of the image was one of livelihood and contentment — “the coral looks like it’s dancing.”

Stranger Description
The stranger was a woman, probably in her mid 60s. She was very talkative and personable, and she struck up a conversation with me so I decided to ask her to participate in our “visual communication experiment.” We talked about Disney World (one of my favorite topics) since I noticed she was wearing a Disney sweatshirt. She didn’t attend college so she didn’t have a major, but she said her career was in child care and education and business.

Comparison between Reactions
I found the differences between our reactions very interesting. While I thought more about the image in a scientific sense (since I already knew what the image was of), my reaction had a lot more to do with thinking about it strategically: analyzing the image and what I imagined its motives or reasoning was. The woman, however, had no background or information about the image at all and instead looked for familiar shapes and textures in the image in order to identify it. She also connected much more emotionally with the image, paying attention to the colors and their calming effect on her. Looking at the image in retrospect and from a much more objective perspective, I can see the rocky and plant-like textures and its oceanic qualities. It was interesting how someone else’s reaction could help me interpret the image in a totally different light.

My Stranger

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3 thoughts on ““Purple’s my favorite color!”

  1. Hi Meghan,
    I really like your post. I agree with you and the stranger that the colors really stand out and make the photo interesting. I like that you chose an image that we can’t normally see with the naked eye because this week’s reading talked a lot about it but did not give many examples of that. I think this is a really great example because this isn’t something you could see with your eye.

  2. Wow, I was really surprised to read that this woman thought this was coral! The second I clicked on your post I knew it had to be a microscopic image (although I had no idea of what, exactly!) I supposed from the artificial coloring, the image could look like the ocean, which usually has vivid imagery of weird shaped objects!

    I agree with you that the image totally just makes me feel like I am back in highschool biology learning about all the things our eyes cannot see on their own. Its really cool how pictures can help us see things like this. Its crazy that a picture so factual to me could be so artsy to the woman you showed!

  3. I think it was very interesting to see what the woman thought of that image. Without having context, I definitely don’t blame her for not understanding what the image actually was. It is interesting that she seemed to instinctively rely on her own personal feelings and the things she was familiar with in order to interpret the image. She had a very simple and endearing response to the image, and talked about how it made her feel emotionally. This matches well with the reading from this week, because the reading also pointed out how people often rely on emotional reactions to images if they do not understand the scientific depth to the images. I wonder if she would have understood the image more or thought more analytically about what it was if she had a more scientific or academic background.

    I tried to think about what I would have thought the image was had I not read the description. I think I may have also thought about it in a similar way as the woman, as the blue definitely makes me think of the water. Sometimes images are daunting and we just rely on the simplest explanation that we understand.

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