Morganmobile: Order and Disorder

Does an eyeful of snow remind you of the messiness of nature, or of its astonishing order? The modern idea that no two snowflakes are alike—that each frozen crystal is structurally unique—owes much to the career-long photographic hobby of meteorologist Wilson A. Bentley of Jericho, Vermont. In January 1885, Bentley attached a compound microscope to the front of his bellows camera. His portraits of individual crystals (made, of course, under freezing conditions) would come to number in the thousands. Twenty-five hundred exposures appear in the volume Snow Crystals, published in 1931—just a few months before Bentley died of pneumonia after walking six miles home through a blizzard.

Wilson A. Bentley (1865–1931), Snow Crystal, c. 1900. Albumen print, 3 5/8 x 2 15/16 inches (9.21 x 7.46 cm). Gift of Robert Flynn Johnson in memory of Charles Ryskamp, 2014.89.