Japanese Artist Ryota Kajita’s Otherworldly Photographs of Ice Formation in Alaska
A visual serenade to one of the most beautiful and seemingly miraculous phenomena of the physical universe.
By Maria Popova
The pioneering naturalist John Muir held the poetic conviction that when we look closely at any aspect of our world, “the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” Phase transitions are among the most beautiful and seemingly miraculous phenomena of the physical universe — emissaries of nature’s magnificence and might that bear, in their stormy and almost alchemical transformation of substance, a certain metaphorical allure that borders on the existential. If matter can transform so radically from one state of being to another, perhaps so can we — under the fertile pressure of the right conditions, even the most radical change is possible.
That material miraculousness is what Japanese-born, Alaska-based artist Ryota Kajita captures in his exquisite series Ice Formation — a series of photographs of various natural ice formations in the waters of Fairbanks, Alaska: otherworldly geometric patterns created by the bubbles that form as lake and river water freezes gradually from the surface down, trapping major greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon dioxide in the crystal lattice of ice.
Beneath the artful depiction of the phenomenon may lie a scientific key to climate change — scientists in Alaska are studying the frozen bubbles to better understand global warming.
There is seasonal variation to the patterns, as snow and frost interfere with the ice formation in unique ways.
Kajita reflects on the project:
Wandering around looking for ice reminds me of boyhood treasure hunting. I used to run out into the woods after school, exploring places that made up my neighborhood. It was an adventure, and I enjoyed leaving my footprints on unknown areas. It was fun and uplifting, satisfying my young, innocent curiosity.
As an adult, photographing ice is rooted in those childhood adventures. It’s in that spirit that I strive to know the environment on a deeper level. Genuine curiosity propels me to actively involve myself in the place I live.
Echoing Muir’s assertion that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” he adds:
That vital dialogue between yourself and your surroundings develops your thoughts on how you live in the place, and face bigger issues like global climate change. Everything — even if it appears to be insignificant — connects to larger aspects of our Earth.
Complement Kajita’s Ice Formation with artist Rose-Lynn Fischer’s stunning electromicroscopy photographs of tears cried with various emotions, then revisit Adam Gopnik’s love letter to the icy season.
Published September 12, 2018