They say that there are no two snowflakes the same.
Your reaction to that sentence will be one of three possible scenarios, with the saddest being “What’s a snowflake?” For those of us lucky enough to have see the majesty of a truly white winter, the reaction depends almost entirely on whether you caught an obscure bit of news from 1998. You see, it has long been thought that no two snowflakes are the same, and yet they melt so fast that it’s almost impossible to find out for sure. Until the advent of photography, that is.
On a Vermont farm in January 1885 Wilson Bentley attached a microscope to a bellows camera and took what is widely regarded to be the first photograph of an individual snowflake. Bentley loved the snow and described snowflakes as “tiny miracles of beauty”. His method of photography would go on to be used in the production of his book Snow Crystals, which is still in print today. Unfortunately snow would prove to be the end of him as he died from pneumonia caught while walking home in a blizzard. Bentleys photographs are astounding, even today, with the snowflakes caught against a blackboard background and the level of magnification showing off their intricate design.
The problem with Bentleys photographs was that they were so good, so ahead of their time, that not many people bothered trying to do better. The same techniques, with increasingly better equipment, was used by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in America to try and test the old adage about two snowflakes not being the same. For years they looked and it was assumed that only the simple prism sort of snowflake was able to be replicated in nature until sometime in the 90s they found a twin to one of the previous hollow column sort of snowflakes. A so-called complex snowflake, the sort thought to never be duplicated, had found its twin and the news reported this and the world rejoiced, then went back to grumbling about whatever was worrying us in the 90s – probably mutant killer beetroot men.
Anyway, the image above is from those original 1885 photographs. But there’s been well over a hundred years since those photographs were taken and finally someone has stepped up to the plate and decided to show the world how it can be done with modern technology.
Alexey Kljatov is an amateur photographer, if you can believe that after seeing that shot. In order to save himself thousands on equipment costs, he built his own equipment from old cameras attached to wooden boards using screws and tape. The method was so ad-hoc that it brought to mind those early experiments by Bentley. And, as you can see, it worked amazingly.
Kljatov takes his photos against a glass background or dark woolen material, with light coming from behind. He has a gallery of his snowflake photographs available to view on Flickr. Despite what was learned in the 90s, each one is unique and each one is beautiful.