These pills will ease your pain

A photographer zooms in on everyday medication

Almost everyone is familiar with painkillers, and most of us have taken them. Of course, your main question might be “will this ease my pain?” But have you ever wondered what they would look like under a microscope?

Whether you take them as liquids, tablets or capsules, inject them into your flesh or insert them via the rectum, massage them in as an ointment or apply them through a plaster: the market for painkillers is large, to say the least. From the weakest aspirin to the strongest oxymorphone, each works in a different way. And behind every used painkiller, there is a story. A few years back, I was living one of those stories. For a long time, I needed to take strong pain medication and wasn’t able to do my normal photography work. 

As a licensed medical laboratory analyst, I had seen lots of beautiful things under the microscope while working at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands. I had always dreamed of capturing these moments as an art form. So I built a setup that would let me go back to this “happy place”. I wanted to get to know the world in a different way through the drugs we consume in our daily lives. By modifying a Novex B microscope, I was able to capture the hidden structures, shapes, patterns, details, and colours of some of the most common medications. 

Visualising the everyday things we encounter, I hope to open the debate on what we consume. Drugs are made and used by people, so for every pill popped, there is a story to share. Maybe these pictures can be that conversation starter to help you open up about what drug use does to you as a person. 

∢ Salicylic acid — C4H6O6

⋇ In addition to being an important active metabolite of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), it is probably best known for its use as a key ingredient in topical anti-acne products. 

∢ Dipyridamole — C24H40N8O4

⋇ An antiplatelet medicine that inhibits thrombus formation when given chronically and causes vasodilation when given at high doses over a short time.

∢ Paracetamol — C8H9NO2

⋇ Also known as acetaminophen, it is a widely used over the counter analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer).


∢ Ethinylestradiol 0.03 — C20H24O2 

∢ Levonorgestrel 0.15 — C21H28O2

⋇ OCP, often referred to as the birth control pill or colloquially as “the pill”, is a birth control method that includes a combination of an estrogen (estradiol) and a progestogen (progestin).

∢ Diltiazem — C22H26N2O4S

⋇ A calcium channel blocker used in the treatment of hypertension, angina pectoris, and some types of arrhythmia. 


Photography by

Maurice Mikkers