Rafael Rojas Photography

Blog of Rafael Rojas Fine Art Photography

Glaciers: The Art and the Science


I must reckon I have always felt a quite strong attraction to glaciers. I can say I have been lucky enough to visit some of the most impressive places on this planet and see some of the biggest nature shows, but does not avoid every time I get close to a glacier, I cannot avoid feeling humble, overwhelmed and lured by these rivers of ice, so powerful and mysterious, but at the same time so fragile and weak. They are so strong that they can shape a whole landscape, carry with them millions of tons of rocks and even affect the climate. However, a slight change in the overall temperature reveal the truth..., and the truth is they are just frozen water...as simple as that. The other day I visited one of the many glaciers that still thrive in the Swiss Alps...where some caves in the ice remain at the very end of the glacier. Being in winter, when the river which is born at its mouth becomes just a shy water trickle, I could enter for a few meters inside the guts of the giant. Quite surreal forms decorated the ceiling and walls of the ice, and frost and bubbles created nice patterns in the cold substance. A great playground for light, which filtered through the ice and reflected from outside led to a myriad of colours and tones. A visual feast for the photographer...

It was a quick visit, but I had the time to capture some images from the place. As very often happens, details show much more than the whole, and I hoped to capture in these three images very different concepts and feelings by using some intimate scenes of the place...

It is quite funny to see how we humans look for order wherever we go. Our brains are made to make sense of the world around us (in a way, it is directly connected to our "equipment" for survival), and we are always happy finding order and making sense out of the natural chaos. Take this first showcased image for instance...That pile of rocks is the perfect example of our avid search for order...we see chaos around us, but we look for rocks which set together, create a uniform shape where proportion and scale give us the sense of "beauty". However, order is not only visible in human "products", but it also exists in nature. One of the major roles of the nature photographer is, in fact, looking for that order so that it helps convey a message. On this image for instance I saw a natural sculpture, blending together with a human one...One might think that the glacier adapts itself with its forms to that little human addition, and the same kind of order can be found in both elements. In a way, this scene struck me as the visual metaphor of a possible balance between the two sides, the humans and the fragility of Nature embodied by these ice monsters...the possibility of living together with respect and sustainability. After all, we are part of Nature, and protecting Nature is protecting ourselves...by the proper definition.

The second of the images had a different motivation. One of the biggest feelings I have when facing a glacier is the sheer level of power and energy encapsulated in the ice. What we see in the images as a static mass of ice, is indeed pushing with thousands of tons the rock around, crashing, rolling, polishing and scratching that million years old gneiss rock mass. I saw on this composition the very example of that fight of elements. Ice against mineral. I even saw a giant snake devouring a piece of rock, which with its triangular shape punctured the ice like fighting for its survival. Visually speaking, this image had to be dynamic and strong, full of visual tension. See how I composed the whole scene full of diagonals forms and lines, flowing from left to right, and how I placed the contact of the rock and ice almost at the very center, setting the "fight arena" bang in the middle. See also how the slightly complementary colours (blue and brown), add to that dynamism and tension. This image is also a good example of the play of negative and positive spaces...which is the "object" and the "background"? the ice? the rock? ...both? I felt in a way "sorry" for the rock here, thinking on the impending lose of its battle against the ice...at least, for the time being.

The third of the images shows the mystery I feel for this geological features. They represent the gate to another world. Follow the water trickling out of them, and once inside you are surrounded by ice which formed from snow felt to the ground hundreds, thousands of years ago. Open one of those bubbles inside and you might find part of the air that maybe Jesus Christ breathed...In order to show all this mystery, I decided to showcase the entrance of the glacier, that gate which separates our world from his. I opted for a simple composition which, again, would make order out of the chaos, leaving that visual wave created by the ice edge flow around the image, framing the gate of the glacier from where water gets out to the surface. The position of those main three pieces of eroded rock gives a triangular visual order to the image, increasing a bit the dynamism and giving part of the structure to the image.

As Leonardo DaVinci said, I finish with the science of art, but I would not end this post without linking to the art of the science. I read these last days one of best articles/interviews I have ever seen about glaciers, climate change and in a way, the overall state of the natural world nowadays. The author is Professor of Glaciology Doug Benn and you can find an interview made by his brother, and also nature photographer and conservationist Alister Benn.  If you are bored with "cheap and sensationalist predication" of the global warming issue, you might even find this interview more appealing, since he explains the situation we live nowadays in a very scientific way (but understandable for everyone), basing his answers with facts, proofs and common sense. You can find the interview here.

Thanks for reading, and great light to you all...

Note: Click on the images to see them bigger!