Tom Eisner has always enjoyed being mischievous with a camera. One of the first things he did after moving to New York City from South America at age 18 in 1947 was buy a three-dollar plastic camera and go to the American Museum of Natural History. He pressed the camera against the glass of some of those big dioramas filled with grizzly bears and other wild beasts and sent the photos to his friends back in Uruguay, telling them he was on a series of exciting expeditions.

Eisner, now a famous and respected biologist at Cornell University, has kept up his love of photography and has recently been experimenting with a new kind of photographic mischief: He takes shells and pieces of shells he has collected over the years, arranges them to make fantastic creatures and places them directly on a color photocopier to produce the luminous images you see here.

It's the kind of thing that can be done by any kid with the dollar it costs to make a color copy, but the creatures can look good just glued on dark cardboard, too.

"It's pure playfulness," Eisner says. But his work also shows how certain shapes are used and reused in nature, apparently because they provide the kind of support or function that many kinds of life can use in different ways.

It's also good training in the art of careful observation -- a skill that is at the core of being a good scientist.

"I find myself looking at something, like a shell, and a whole series of flashes go by in my mind's eye," Eisner says. "I think, 'What does this look like? What could it be a part of?' "

-- Rick Weiss

Tom Eisner places shells on a copier to create fantastic images.