elegantly dressed obsession


What could be more elegant than the infinitesimal detail of the unique lace of the snowflake? And what could be plainer than the pretensions of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, a Vermont farm boy who never even went to school till he was fourteen?  He grew up in a commodious, plain house, in what sounds like a relatively commodious, plain family, in a plain town called Jericho. In that time and that environment people made what they needed with necessity and religious and community principles to guide them. but by golly he had an elegant idea! He set out to prove that no two snowflakes are the same, and so he did. He was the first person, in 1885 (shen he was twenty), ever to photograph one. And he kept on, photographing and writing, until his name gradually changed…

This extract from an article by Snowflake Bentley gives a flavour of his New England utilitarianism, which of course was in service to his awe of the beauty of nature:

“The photographing of snowflakes, although quite delicate work, can hardly be called difficult, although some hardships attend it, because the work must all be done in a temperature below freezing, and under conditions of much physical exposure. The temperature at which photography is possible depends somewhat upon the thickness of the crystals; this varies greatly from time to time, and depends upon whether the temperature is rising from an intense degree of cold or falling from a point above freezing. If rising after a cold snap, photographing can often be continued until actual thawing commences.

Of course, location is everything in this work, and no one except those living in arctic climates or in regions having long and severe winters, can accomplish much…”

Read more here. Or see more on YouTube: really nice quotes from Bentley here.

Thanks to the poet Robert Crawford at the TS Eliot prize readings the other night for alerting me to the existence of this fascinating person. I suppose everyone else has known about him all along. You’ve got to catch up sometime.


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