No Two Snowflakes are Alike

Bentley-One.jpg

Snowflake Photograph Circa 1880, Jerico, Vermont.  

 

We had a house on the hill.  The rolling hills of Jericho,  Vermont were marked by whiteout winters, muddy springs, idyllic summers and autumns filled with the fire colored foliage.   A town small and local, filled with farms, is probably best known for a photographer, Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, whom first pioneered the art and science of photographing snowflakes with special microscopic cameras revealing the unique “masterpieces of flake” of each crystal.  Bentley’s passion was exhaustless, documenting thousands of newly fallen snowflakes, eventually concluding that no two were alike. We were a family of 9, my father, mother and seven children, I being number four of three brothers and three sisters.

Winters were full of sledding, cross country skiing and snow fights, which included forcing snow down a siblings back and most importantly play.  This was all tempered by warm fireplaces with games, in a time before electronics, with sibling banter.  I was young then, kindergarten age, unaware of the impression such a place bestows on a person.  On days the roads were too icy for the school bus to drive, we could go to school by sledding down the dirt road (which seemed like miles then).  The school was a short walk from the bottom of the hill.  Snow days off from school were only reserved for true disasters, frequent depths of snow is just part of weekly life in a Vermont full of winter.

My mom tells me that I had a particular desire to spend hours out in the woods and snow exploring alone.  She said my dad and she never worried about my safety as I always made it back with a smile on my face when they rang the nautical clapper bell on the back deck for dinner or chores.  Curiosity, an innate characteristic I now see in my two and a half year old daughter.

Summers included hours of tending the family garden, games of archery, learning to ride bikes and a generous amount of idle time spent day dreaming or searching for wild black berries.  No matter what season it was or what I or my siblings were up to, there was always one constant, my father with is Minolta 101 camera capturing normal life.  I hardly noticed it then he captured us in our natural element, mostly on  holidays, birthdays, the first day of school, vacations… 

Just like Snowflake Bentley, who had pioneered his technique of capturing the uniqueness of each snowflake, my father had captured what made us each unique as siblings in a particular time and place.  There was the occasional posed family portrait, but the thousands of slides which now hold years of family history trend toward photojournalism.

When my father passed away last year, his camera came to me, the very one used decades ago to document our family and now I use to document my own.  Those early times I now see reflected in my choice of a calling in photography and the hours I love to spend enjoying the simple pleasures of nature.  My work concentrates on finding the kernels of what makes us unique in a time and place that is only now.

There are some memories you keep in your mind, some that exist in conversations between siblings/ spouses/ parents / friends…and some that are created in photographs.  The photographs often become the memory when the actual event has faded with time.

When you’re outside this January and a snowflake falls on your face, remember that just like that snowflake, we are all unique and that makes all the difference. 

 

Fun fact: Bentley would take the photographs throughout the winter but would have to wait until the warmer spring to develop the negatives.  Read more his, his work and process in this recent CNN post.

 

 

 

Robert Wagner