First Photograph of a Snowflake by William Reichard
Wilson Alwyn Bentley, Circa 1910
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Their chief property: impermanence.
What one discovers must be
The chief challenges: scale and speed.
How to capture a single flake, magnify
it hundreds of times, be certain that
the intact image is burned onto
the large glass negative, all accomplished
in the dark of the blackout hood.
The primary goal: to create an image
clean and clear, free of motion when,
by nature, the flake is only motion.
He tries it hundreds of times,
the microscope, the camera,
the hot keg lights blasting hard.
Finally, the contradictions hold
and the ephemeral is captured.
When he makes a positive and drops
the paper into the developer,
he watches as winter itself emerges,
intricate and perfect.
William Reichard is the author of five poetry collections, most recently, Two Men Rowing Madly Toward Infinity (Broadstone Books, 2016). He is the editor of American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice (New Village Press, 2011) an anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays addressing social justice issues. He lives in Saint Paul, MN.