Photos by John Snell
ater 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 direc-
tion 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.