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Recent advances in probe design have led to enhanced resolution (currently as significant as 12 nm) in optical microscopes based on near-field imaging. We demonstrate that the polarization of emitted and detected light in such microscopes can be manipulated sensitively to generate contrast. We show that the contrast on certain patterns is consistent with a simple interpretation of the requisite boundary conditions, whereas in other cases a more complicated interaction between the probe and the sample is involved. Finally application of the technique to near-filed magneto-optic imaging is demonstrated.