A Mind of Winter
For many, the mere mention of winter brings to mind such pejoratives as– barren, cold, desolate, empty, long, relentless, biting. lonely, dreary, dismal, isolated, extreme and bare— to name but a few. Indeed, while some find the fluff and bluster of a deep winter engaging, many tend to view it as a period of time that must simply be endured until life reawakens in the spring. While gathering together and arranging the images and words featured on this page, I found myself pondering Wallace Stevens’ famous poem, “The Snow Man,” in which he writes, “One must have a mind of winter” and “have been cold a long time / To behold the junipers shagged with ice” and “not to think / Of any misery in the sound of the wind”– an observation which not only suggests that in order to understand the winter one’s mind must be of the winter but also reminds us that winter itself, in actuality, is not bound to the biting, cold adjectives that we often use to complain about it; rather, such unpleasant conclusions, which are born from the frustrations of an undesired endurance of the cold, are projected onto that landscape by those who grow tired of the seemingly unrelenting cold (or never really cared for it in the first place). Indeed, winter and the landscape that it powders has no emotion, no concerns, no worries, no complaints. It is we, the interpreters and explainers of all that amuses and annoys us, that personify such snow-filled landscapes and invest them with our ever-fickle miseries and joys. After all, some see the empty, cold landscape as an invitation to solitude and silence … to “alone-ness” … and, ultimately, as an opportunity to experience a silent moment of beauty (in spite of its dangers and difficulties).
To that end, I am also reminded of the quintessential American poet Robert Frost, who– in his famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”– wrote about a lone traveler that stops on the coldest, darkest evening of the year to watch the nearby woods fill up with snow. The traveler, after noting his location and wondering if his horse thinks it odd to stop in such cold and darkness, observes “The only other sound’s the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake” soon followed by his realization that “The woods are lovely, dark and deep / But I have promises to keep” and then, finally, the potentially haunting echo of “And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.” Frost’s traveler, contrary to what some might believe, is not overwhelmed by loneliness and sadness but seemingly drawn– albeit potentially dangerously– to the beauty of the woods’ darkness and deepness and, by extension, the potential darkness and deepness of beauty itself. For a life spent only pursuing beauty, at the expense of one’s responsibilities, has its dangers and futility (and waiting too long in the middle of the night as the snow falls can, after all, lead to death). In the end, however, it is, ultimately, a poem about someone who has stopped to watch the woods fill with snow because it is a beautiful and silent sight to behold.
Considered together, Stevens’ and Frost’s observations remind us that all human perception of the landscape of winter is bound to language, to emotions, to personal aesthetics, and, ultimately, to a patience, or lack thereof, for endurance– for, after all, one can easily perish in such relentless cold (or, at the very least, quickly grow uncomfortable from enduring the miserableness of the biting cold). Yet … indeed, yet … for many, the winter reflects an undeniable beauty even in the midst of its dangers, its cold, its starkness and its seeming emptiness– and, as a result, winter has become a never-ending source of inspiration for many poets, writers, painters, musicians and, for our purposes, photographers.
In the light of that pursuit of the sublime, in the light of the beauty and its potential dangers, in the light of its possibilities for moments of contemplation– I’d like to invite you to view the images and read the words of a handful of photographers who have shaped the winter through their minds’ eyes and captured their slices of wintry silence …
Nathan Wirth, December 2015
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