Ashfield photographer’s “Ice Visions” on display at  Brattleboro Museum and Art Center

  • Ashfield photographer Erik Hoffner kneels on the ice next to an ice fishing tip-up with one of his “Ice Visions” images. Contributed Photo/Erik Hoffner

  • Hoffner captures these “galactic oddities” in the ice by skating out on the frozen lakes in the morning. With his camera aimed straight down at the refrozen ice, Hoffner captures black and white images that have the appearance of galaxies filled with shining stars or living cells. Contributed Photo/Erik Hoffner

  • Hoffner captures these “galactic oddities” in the ice by skating out on the frozen lakes in the morning. With his camera aimed straight down at the refrozen ice, he captures black and white images that have the appearance of galaxies filled with shining stars or living cells. Contributed Photo/Erik Hoffner

  • Hoffner began to take photos of the refreezing holes using film, like this image. Later he would use a digital camera to capture black and white photos of the ice. Contributed Photo/Erik Hoffner

  • Hoffner said most of the “fun” photos he takes for himself, or for galleries, are still taken on film, like this image. Taking the photos in black and white enhances the out of this world, galactic sense of imagery. Contributed Photo/Erik Hoffner

  • Hoffner has noticed effects of climate change in the ice. With milder than usual temperatures during the past winter, some mornings Hoffner found barely a skin of new ice covering the prior day’s fishing holes. Instead of the usual galactic images, more bubbles were able to pool up at the surface before freezing. Contributed Photo/Erik Hoffner

  • Due to milder than usual temperatures during the past winter, less freezing allowed bubbles to pool up at the surface before freezing, creating striking new kinds of formations that look like strange faces, but also “perhaps reveal the fingerprint of a warming climate” Hoffner said. Contributed Photo/Erik Hoffner

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2021 10:26:40 PM

Environmental journalist and photographer Erik Hoffner has always enjoyed ice skating during cold New England winters, a hobby that led him to discover the unexpected beauty and natural art created by the ice fishing community in Franklin County.

“When fishing holes refreeze overnight, they create fertile ground for nature’s wild artistic side. These perfectly augered circles become worlds at once interstellar and cellular, dreamlike and tactile,” Hoffner says.

He captures these “galactic oddities” in the ice by skating out on the frozen lakes in the morning in search of abandoned ice fishing holes, and brushing any fresh snow from the newly formed ice. With his camera aimed straight down at the refrozen surface, Hoffner captures black and white images that have the appearance of galaxies filled with shining stars or living cells.

Hoffner, a resident of Ashfield, has pictures of this abstract ice photography featured in the exhibit “Ice Visions,” now on display at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center in Vermont. The exhibit opened in October and runs through March 6. “Ice Visions,” Hoffner says on a statement posted to the Museum and Art Center website, is an informal collaboration between himself, the ice fishing community and elemental forces.

He and his wife, Jennifer, moved from Colorado to Shutesbury in 2000, before moving to Ashfield in 2004. Hoffner said they lived on Lake Wyola while residing in Shutesbury, and that’s where his relationship with the ice began.

“That first winter we were there, it was one of those winter rentals you can get for three months,” Hoffner said. “It was right on the lake, which froze solid and black because it was one of those cold Decembers where we didn’t get any snow. You could skate along and just see the fish swimming below, the beautiful green of the algae and all. It was amazing.”

The pair went skating every day while they lived on Lake Wyola. Hoffner said they watched the ice thicken and change as that first Massachusetts winter moved by. They watched ice fishermen on the lake, taking notice of the holes they drilled to drop lines for fishing.

“In the morning, after they had refrozen, they looked incredible,” Hoffner said. “When I looked at them, I got down on my hands and knees and just kind of gazed at them. I realized they looked like worm holes, stars or galaxies. They looked like cells the way they were refreezing.”

Hoffner began to take photos of the refreezing holes using film. Later, he would use a digital camera to capture black and white photos of the ice. He said most of the “fun” photos he takes for himself or for galleries are still captured on film. Taking the photos in black and white enhances the out of this world, galactic sense of imagery.

His photographs capture the unexpected, yet not unappreciated beauty of ice fishing. Sometimes, Hoffner said, people have an image of ice fishermen as a gruff lot “out in the cold, drinking beer and listening to the football game on the radio.” But, Hoffner has come to learn, they are aware of the beauty they are creating in the ice.

“The thing that’s great about it is that they know,” Hoffner said.

Once in a while, an ice fisherman will call out to Hoffner to ask what he’s doing while skating from hole to hole taking pictures of the ice. When Hoffner tells them and asks if they’ve ever noticed the formations that appear in the holes, many say they have admired them, but just never thought to take pictures of them.

“They’re out there because they love it and they connect with the elements. That’s what this project is about,” Hoffner said. “It’s about people and nature, and the unexpected beauty of what some people might think is just a single dimensional kind of activity.”

With each icy image being one of a kind,  Brattleboro Museum and Art Center Chief Curator Mara Williams referred to Hoffner as “the Snowflake Bentley of our generation.” Wilson Bentley, otherwise known as “Snowflake Bentley,” was an American meteorologist and photographer from Jericho, Vermont and was the first person to take detailed photographs of snowflakes.

“To be compared to him is pretty fun,” Hoffner said.

Most of Hoffner’s time photographing these icy images is spent on Ashfield Lake and Upper Highland Lake in Goshen. He said the two lakes are active with ice fishermen, “and the lakes themselves are active.” The lakes are “biologically rich” and create a lot of bubbles and imagery while refreezing.

“All these little bubbles coming up out of the sediment, that’s what makes these ice fishing holes look like magic in the morning,” Hoffner said. “As the bubbles come up, they start heading toward the surface of the water but as it starts freezing, the water gets thicker. The bubbles start to stretch as they get further into the thick water and that’s why they can look like streaking… like the iris of an eye.”

Due to milder than usual temperatures during the past winter, some mornings, Hoffner found barely a skin of new ice covering the prior day’s fishing holes. Instead of the usual galactic images, he said bubbles pooled up at the surface before freezing, creating striking new kinds of formations he’d never seen before — photographs that look like strange faces, but also “perhaps reveal the fingerprint of a warming climate.”

While this winter hasn’t seen the same kind of warm spell, Hoffner said he has spoken with other people around the region, including from Cape Cod, New Jersey and Connecticut, whose area lakes haven’t frozen enough for it to be safe to skate on for years in a row. Fortunately, Franklin County usually sees enough snow and cold temperatures for snowmobiling or ice skating, but it is changing Hoffner said.

“Having a 20 year record of how this one particular winter activity has changed over time has really brought home for me that this is about to change, radically perhaps,” Hoffner said. “And I’m not ready for it … I’m just kind of using this project as an excuse to get out on the ice as much as possible because who knows, maybe in another decade we won’t be able to get out on the ice very much.”

“Ice Visions” is on exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center in Vermont paired with an exhibit by National Geographic Photographer Federico Pardo titled “Ice Shanties: Fishing, People & Culture.” In 2016 Pardo began documenting the ice fishing shanties on a frozen floodplain of the West River in Brattleboro, known locally as the “The Meadows.” Over the course of two winter seasons, Pardo took color photographs of the shanties using long-duration exposures, beginning his work after sunset and continuing long into the night. The resulting images, lit by both sunset and moonlight, carry a surreal quality of blended night and day.

In addition to the Brattleboro exhibit, Hoffner was featured in a Living on Earth radio segment discussing his 20 years documenting the ice fishing community in Franklin County. The segment aired the week of Jan. 15 on 250 NPR stations around the country that carry the Living on Earth show. The 3½-minute segment can still be heard online at https://bit.ly/3qHdW2G. A 5 minute video on Hoffner’s process in Ashfield, titled “Ice Visions (2020)” can also be found on YouTube.

Hoffner is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. He is an editor and podcast producer for Mongabay.com, an international environmental news outlet with global employees and roughly 10 million monthly readers.

“Best of all, I work from home in Ashfield,” Hoffner said of his editorial job.

More information on Hoffner’s writing and photography can be found at erikhoffner.com.

Reporter Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy