07 January 2013
Let me know which you prefer and why.
The human eye has its limits; the camera has its limits. But past and current technologies have given us a collage of hope: to see what is visible in a deeper more profound forum.
The camera can record what we cannot. It can bring into view the small and the large in variation and perspective. It can hold tight onto that round of snowflakes that are newly fallen or survived a snowstorm. It can preserve the memory of the first or last snow of the season. It does all that with continued reiteration that has surpassed the original invention’s capabilities. Still, while the twenty-first century version is a dandy, it remains the eye of the photographer to make the frame that captures the attention of a viewer.
Walter Benjamin (German, 1892-1940), who was a noted twentieth-century literary critic and philosopher, believed the human eye and the camera were a stellar duo. Because this combination allows the photographer to increase its observational skills, he came to see photographic technology as the “optical unconscious.”
When the first snow of winter 2012-2013 appeared in my small haven of the universe, I was too far from home to grab my Nikon DSLR. But I did have my iPhone and Olloclip (an easy-to-connect additional lens that attaches to the iPhone 4 and 4s). As I placed the Olloclip onto my iPhone, it reminded that this extra magnification was exactly what Benjamin meant: we use human innovations not only to record the world around us, but also to increase what we can see of it.
“…photography reveals…image worlds, which dwell in the smallest things – meaningful yet covert enough to find a hiding place in waking dreams, but which, enlarged and capable of formulation, make the difference between technology and magic visible as a thoroughly historical variable.” (Benjamin, “Little History” 512)
I wanted to catch the fleeting snow–capture the snowflakes, render the snow crystals part of my repertoire. Experimentation began. Experimentation continues.
Here is a chart with the extraordinary shapes of these small wonders. Sometimes we can see them with our eye, sometimes we need the camera’s magnification or microscope to witness nature’s artistry. Shapes are captivating. Some are familiar, others surprise.
In the Lens section are four of the images that seem to portray the essence of my experience: the wonder of the first snow on its first day (images 1 and 2) and the snow crystals and ice that lingered (images 3 and 4).
While I knew the conceptual photography of American-born twin brothers Mike and Doug Starn, I was surprised to discover their images of snowflakes, which is a series taken from 2006-2007. They pull you into their majesty, but they were not made simply for their magnificence. Here is a sample.
The Starn brothers wanted to show the impermanence of nature–the delicate balance between the seemingly perfect in its imperfection. The snowflake is aptly selected as their subject, being ephemeral and short-lived. They have stilled it, giving us a representation of invisible beauty made visible in a world tinted by human interference.
Winter 2013 has a forecast that includes major snowstorms. I’ll be ready to move in closer and closer to see the magic that Mother Nature bestows upon the landscape (and my driveway and sidewalks). But I’ll equip myself with my Nikon, macro and tripod, hoping that I’ll be able to record the miraculous in a new way.
Note: As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of this blog.