A little over a week ago I was walking on the frozen river when I felt my feet crunching through a thin layer of ice down to the solid ice below. The distance between the layers was only an inch or two.
I’d walked on it before but on this day I decided to take a closer look. Crouching down I brushed away the covering snow and found that the hollow space between the two ice layers was filled with crystals.
The top layer of ice was at most a centimeter thick, but it’s underside was crusted with a layer of ice crystals half an inch thick. Th solid ice below was similarly coated and the space between was nearly filled with crystals spanning the space.
Breaking off pieces of the top ice layer I was able to examine the crystalline structures that had formed in the cavity.
The formations are unlike any crystals I’ve seen before. They are not delicate, the crystals are not clean, nor are they whole. What I’ve found examining the formations are a jumble of spear like crystals growing on top of each other, through each other, and stacked and scattered across the under-surface of the ice. There is no discernible up or down; gravity seems to have had little influence and the crystals grow in all directions.
That first day I simply examined the crystals, looking at the intricate tiny structures but not quite sure how to capture them with my camera. Since discovering them that first day I’ve returned several times to examine these crystals and and have been experimenting and learning how to photograph them.
Trying to capture photos of them in situ is not really possible. The contrast between the white crystals and the surrounding ice is not great enough to make them stand out and the space between the ice layers too dark.
What I’ve found works is to hold pieces of the top plate of the cavity in my hand and locating crystals along it’s edge that stick out, capture them with the sky as background.
On days where the sky is blue, clear, and dark, the contrast makes the resulting images stunning. Even on days like today when it was overcast and dim with the midwinter sun the images are still fascinating.
I also found that holding the pieces up to photograph, and placing the camera right at the edge of the ice gives the perspective of being right in among the tiny ice spires.
With the sky as background it becomes difficult to judge size and the very tiny ice spires and crystals take on a monumental scale appearing more as monolithic geologic structures, large sculpture, or the ruined buildings of an ancient city.
I like the idea that they are structural and otherworldly in form. Crystalline cities, post apocalyptic remnants slowly decaying. The crystals themselves lend themselves to this interpretation.
No crystal is perfect, all are broken in some part and many have secondary crystals growing on them most of which are also damaged in some way.
Most of the time when I’m photographing ice crystals I’m looking for the perfection and symmetry, but with these crystal formations, it is the randomness and imperfections combined with the clarity and angular quality of the shapes that I find most fascinating.
On this dim, midwinter day, where capturing detail was difficult, the quality of light added to the ambiance of that vision, softening the edges, blurring reality bringing a damaged vision of a future created in ice.