Water gets its poetic due, and with good reason. As composer Paul Winter wrote in Marjorie Ryerson’s book Water Music, water “represents an aspect of wild nature without which we would die.”
No small thing, that.
We spend the first nine months of our existence submerged in it, then the rest of our lives gulping it, taking it deep within our bodies. It cleans us, both physically and metaphysically. We dream into it – imagining the earth’s water cycle and marveling that the water molecules around us and in us are three billion years old. Dowsers claim to feel it, divining it in the earth like a buried body. We use it in religious rituals. We fear it, passing down archetypal flood legends that are older than the Bible. Storm surge. River roil. The mean old levee that teaches us to weep and moan. We harness it – travel the world on it, power a light bulb with it, use it to blow the bark off a log.
Perhaps one of the only ways that water is under-used is as an aesthetic focus – a stand-alone source of beauty. Yes, the world is full of nature photographs that contain water, but the camera’s gaze is almost always parallel with the water – shooting across the surface toward a boat, or the shoreline, or the sun setting on the horizon. Rarely does the lens point straight down.
Enter John Snell, who’s been photographing water and its many reflections for the past 50 years. “I’ve learned to look at the surface of water and see worlds I never imagined could exist,” said Snell. “I’ve found there is no need for heavy image-processing with software; the trick is merely being in the right place at the right time. Moving the position of my camera an inch or two in any direction can completely change both what I’m seeing and the resulting photograph.”
Here’s a taste of Snell’s portfolio: wild water in her many seasonal moods.
John Snell has lived in Vermont for 40 years, and has been photographing water, among many other things, for over 50 years. He says he is still learning to see.