DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Finding Beauty in Filthy Snow

Nocturnal Snowscape, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

It’s been a record-breaking season for snowfall this winter in the Northeastern United States – 56 inches (142 cm) so far in New York.  We’ve had snow every week for the past six weeks, sometimes massive dumpings.  Last week’s epic blizzard mostly spared NYC, but covered more than half of the country – check out a satellite photo, and read accounts of drivers taken by surprise and trapped for hours on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, a major highway at the heart of the city.  Snowfall has been heavier than usual across the northern hemisphere, and many warmer areas have experienced heavy rainfall and flash flooding.  Climate scientists tell us the increased cold weather and precipitation in the temperate latitudes is related to the collapse of a “polar vortex” that used to keep frigid air confined to the arctic regions, and this may be related to the melting of arctic sea ice and global climate change.  Of course, a freakishly snowy winter can happen at any time, due to the inherently chaotic nature of weather patterns, but it is also possible that what we are experiencing this winter will become the “new normal”.  If so, we’d better learn to appreciate it!

Of course pristine white snow in the countryside is one of nature’s magnificent spectacles, something nearly everyone finds beautiful.  Snow in the city is a more conflicted phenomenon.  It’s a barrier, a nuisance and a hazard, and it quickly becomes a magnet for all the city’s filth.  But I love observing the forces of nature in an urban setting, and snow is fascinating because it presents so many different forms and changes over a short time span.  Look how it swirls in the golden light of a sodium vapor parking lot lamp.

Snowflake Traces, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

On a sunny morning after a heavy snowfall, parked cars are gently rolling mounds like dunes of white sand.

Snow Dune Van, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

The contours of a pink kiddie-ride horse are softened and abstracted like an unfinished marble carving.

White Horse, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

The bare branches of trees are etched against the background in black and white.

Snowy Branches, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

It’s a linear feast.

Wires and Branches, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

On my block in Brooklyn, cars were thoroughly buried, as the city snowplows piled the snow against them from the street side, while the sidewalks were cleaned with a snow blower that plastered the cars from the house side.  New York has good public transportation, so after a big snowfall many people leave their vehicles interred for many days or weeks.

Great Wall of Snow and Cars, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

Crossing the street may involve clambering over giant mounds of snow or trudging through piles churned up by the plows.

Ahead of the Plow, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

When some of the snow melts, many crosswalks are reached only by leaping across or wading through ankle-deep lakes of slush.

Slush to Ford, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

There should be a word for the hybrid of snow and mud that coats the streets after the snowplows make the rounds.

Sloppy Crosswalk, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

Kids of course love snow.  So do dogs – at least those with long enough legs to keep their bellies out of the mess.  Lots of people are inspired to play and get creative.  This is a giant snow monster, taller than a person, that I saw in Tompkins Square Park.

Tompkins Square Snow Monster, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

Snow in the city actually makes nighttime photography easier, as long as you can keep the wet stuff off your lens.  The snow reflects all the light that the dark pavement normally absorbs, making even the darker parts of the city as bright as only Times Square would be under normal conditions.

Pour House in Winter, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

Street lights coming from behind a mound of snow highlight the rocky texture of its edge.

Plowed In, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

Bicycles frame the colors of the multiple light sources in circles and triangles.

Bike Rack in Snow, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

The shadow this buried bike casts on the show is tinted green by the light of a nearby neon sign.

Buried Bike, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

The whiteness of snow magically intensifies the effects of colored shadows and of lights of different hues falling from different directions.

Shadows on Snow, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

Ice and the damp crystallized sheen that covers the streets reflect the colors of green and red traffic signals, against the snow illuminated by amber street lighting.

Traffic Signals Reflected on Cobblestones, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

This pile of snow is filthy and jagged, and it’s blocking passage to the street and taking up a parking spot.  But look how it catches the colored lights around it.  It’s a glittering gem!

Neon Snow Pile, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

When rain follows snow, the snow is covered by a glistening icy crust.

Icy Crust, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

When there’s been a really big blizzard, certain dirty mounds survive long after most of the snow is gone.  With a core of solid ice, condensed and insulated by an outer coating of diesel scum and general street dust, these icebergs can last well into the early spring.

Tip of the Iceberg, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

All of the photos in this post were taken in January or February of 2011.  I did a post about urban snow last year too – check it out.

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