The Diatomist

(Image credit: Klaus Kemp)

Diatoms are at the bottom of the food chain, and provide sustenance for many sea creatures. If you can see the tiny things, you'll find they come in a amazing variety. At one time, they were used as an art media! Filmmaker Matthew Killip made a documentary about the last remaining master of the art of arranging diatoms.

Diatoms are single cell algae that create jewel-like glass shells around themselves. Microscopists of the Victorian era would arrange them into complex patterns, invisible to the naked eye but spectacular when viewed under magnification.The best of these arrangements are stunning technical feats that reveal the hidden grandeur of some of the smallest organisms on Earth. Klaus Kemp has devoted his entire life to understanding and perfecting diatom arrangement and he is now acknowledged as the last great practitioner of this beautiful combination of art and science.

It’s extremely difficult work, but the complex kaleidoscopic results are stunning.

(Image credit: Klaus Kemp)

(Art by Klaus Kemp, photograph by Wim Van Egmond)

(Image credit: Klaus Kemp)

Klaus Kemp publishes an online newsletter about diatoms. If you think you may be interested in trying to arrange or mount diatoms yourself, Raymond Hummelink has a tutorial. And you'll find more information on mounting diatoms from the Victoria University of Wellington. This hobby requires extensive equipment, time and dedication, and infinite patience.

(Art by Klaus Kemp, photograph by Spike Walker)

(Image credit: Klaus Kemp)

(Image credit: Klaus Kemp)

Filmmaker Matthew Killip tells how he came to make his documentary The Diatomist.

I'm really interested in the way people interact with the natural world (I've previously made a series of short documentaries for UK TV about working relationships with monkeys and apes). I'm also a huge admirer of the Victorian naturalists ... So I was very excited when I recently saw my first Diatom arrangements, by the German master JD Möller (1844 - 1907).  The arrangements really embody that beautiful combination of art and science one can find in the period, and I loved seeing the hand of man display the work of nature so beautifully. The overwhelming variety and intricacy of diatoms can't help but recall Darwin: "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

I was very curious to see if anyone still practiced diatom arrangement and also to find out how it was done. I managed to track down Klaus Kemp in the UK-  he's really the only person doing this to a professional level (he's able to make a living from a small base of collectors) - and filmed with him for one afternoon in December 2013. During the filming Klaus told me all the Victorian diatomists took their secrets to the grave, so there was no accurate information on the practice when he first started, aged sixteen. It has taken him years to be able to create these stunning microscopic slides of arranged diatoms, and although The Diatomist is a modest short film I hope it does some justice to what really is Klaus' life's work.

The Diatomist

(vimeo link)


Previously at Neatorama: Diatoms Art by Klaus Kemp.

Commenting is closed.

Email This Post to a Friend

"The Diatomist"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window