Meet the Singular ‘Snowflake Man’ of Vermont
The man that fell in love with winter and gave the world the first microphotography of a snowflake.
Wilson Bentley belongs to the bloodline of human beings who opened a window through which we can see a more beautiful world. Through his window we see the rain and the snow and, more specifically, the tiny snowflakes that make it up.
Bentley was a farmer that lived in Jericho, a small village in Vermont, who at the age of 15 received a microscope and a photographic camera as a gift from his parents. From that moment on his life expanded and reduced to mind-bending, unsuspected sizes. As someone who’d fallen in love with winter, Wilson made plans to see snowflakes under his microscope’s lens. At first, due to the short lifespan of the snowflakes, he would draw them in a notebook and by the age of 17 he had accumulated hundreds of them in sketch.
Months after his initial research, the “snowflake man”, as his contemporaries called him, was able to take the first microphotography of a snowflake crystal. The system he came up with to safely move the crystals from the outdoors and into his studio is almost incredible: basically, it required a previously chilled tray covered in black velvet. Working carefully so as to not melt the flakes with his breath, Wilson would go out during snowstorms and catch flakes with his tray, later he would identify the one which gave him most pleasure and, with a wooden splinter (taken from his mother’s broom), would lift it gingerly and place it on photographic paper beneath the microscope. Over time, his photographs acquired an impressive definition and contrast until, aided only by his ingeniousness and patience, he was able to enhance the flakes’ details to a degree that made the reproductions perfect. He was the first person to give the world the most beautiful proof that “no snowflake is like another”.
With roughly 70 photographs per storm accompanied by notes that referred to the conditions in which the crystals were taken, Bentley was able to obtain a considerable understanding of snow. Unfortunately, the “snowflake man” was so ahead of his times he did not receive the recognition he deserved from science. The recognition came, however, form other disciplines like jewellery, textile design and engraving, which were dazzled by the absolute beauty of his work.
Fortunately for us, meteorologist Dr. William J. Humphreys helped Bentley publish a book with his photographs. Snow Crystals has since been reedited by Dover Books and therefore we now have the invaluable legacy of the winter man.
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