I have always been fascinated by eyes, specifically the colors of the iris of the eye. How every person has a unique color, intensity, hue. This interest only grew when, in college, I saw a National Geographic poster of Steve McCurry’s 1985 portrait of Sarbat Gula:
Would you just look at those eyes?! Amazing.
And to think, each of us has our own, undeniably personal set of peepers — windows to the soul, indeed.
I spend Easter Eve with my friends Sarah and Keith, both of which are budding amateur photographers in their own right. Keith and I share a passion for macro photography, only he has within the past year one-upped me by actually purchasing a macro lens.
After dinner, Sarah and I were dyeing Easter eggs when we noticed that some of the eggs were developing irregular circular patterns of color on the shell surface — probably due to the fact that they had not warmed up to room temperature before we dunked them in mugs of primary colors. I yelled to Keith to get his camera.
On a whim, I asked Keith to take a picture of my eye. He was a bit skeptical as his lens required not only a tripod, but for him to get within six inches of my face. Still, I persisted and after the first few clicks of the shutter Keith was spinning dials and adjusting settings, calling out, “Oh, cool!” Sarah ended up illuminating my iris with a flashlight when the camera’s flash proved ineffective for this purpose, and the subsequent photos are quite amazing.
We also photographed Sarah’s and Keith’s eyes, and noticed that Sarah doesn’t (noticeably) have the thicker collagen fibers, or stroma, that comprise the iris — whereas my stroma are almost corded with what looks like huge holes. With a nod to our interest in biology, Keith and I began to wonder, “Are these thickened fibers be normal?! Are they an indicator of poor eyesight?! Does the thickness of stroma have anything to do with eye color?!”
It should be noted that Keith and I both wear glasses while Sarah has good vision, and Sarah has solid blue eyes, while Keith and I both have a distinct, second color in the pupillary zone (the part of the iris closest to the pupil, inside of the collarette; the rest of the eye is called the ciliary zone).
I’m losing you, aren’t I?! Here… take a closer look!
What I discovered is that the “holes” I was viewing in my stroma are called “crypts,” and they permit fluids to quickly enter and exit the iris during dilation and contraction of the pupil. So, the thickened fibers and corresponding “holes” are indeed normal. I haven’t yet been able to answer our other two questions.
You know, it’s funny… this whole eyeball conversation reminded me that Max and I have argued in the past over the term to describe my eye color — I’ve always said “brown,” and he told me they are ”hazel.” I always think of my sister and my father as having hazel eyes, but throughout this research I’ve also deduced that hazel can be a catch-all for every eye that is not a solid color.
From now on I think I’ll tell everyone, “green-brown, ” if for no other reason than to be difficult. Unusual. To place myself outside of all the pre-prescribed check-boxes next to eye-color on forms at the DMV, the HR department and the local police station.
After all, a person’s iris is as much an indicator of identity as a fingerprint, and Sarbat Gula’s distinct irises are what helped investigators find the woman 17 years later in the rural foothills of Afghanistan.
If a pair of irises can be that powerful, I don’t want to be categorized as simply “hazel.” I want it to be known that there is only one, singular, numero uno, super-fabulous and undeniable… ME.