"Dew on a spider web” spins beauty in vintage black & white.
The itsy bitsy spider has outsized talent, and with Halloween around the corner, we reckon it’s primetime to tip our hats to the artistry of that 8-legged architect. Which brings us to today’s new Vintage Edition, and a story that starts with snow. While he’s known as “Snowflake Bentley”, Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931) actually photographed all kinds of (often ephemeral) ice and water formations, among them delicate, quivering dewdrops. What better way to showcase the beauty of dew than balanced on the precarious perfection of a spider’s web? But Bentley’s Dew on a spider web does more than magnify magnificent mini water droplets. It gives the eye a way to fully appreciate the elegant arachnid network of silken threads. The image, in turn, matches minimalism with nature’s own complexity. It’s stunning, and just a little spooky—100% the mood we’re going for this month.
Oh, what a wickedly awesome web we weave when we dig deeper into Wilson A. Bentley’s work. The meteorologist, farmer, and photographer is said to be the first person to successfully create detailed photographs of snowflakes in all their singular glory—so well, in fact, that no one really tried to top his work for over 100 years, despite technological advances. He’s even co-credited with first establishing an idea that’s become so well known it’s practically proverbial: no two snowflakes are alike. But Bentley also spent a great deal of time examining raindrops, particularly from 1898-1904. Just like his lifelong studies of snowflakes, his meticulous raindrop work provided unprecedented scientific insights, turning out visual testaments to the beauty and wonder of nature at the same time.
When Bentley captured Dew on a spider web around 1910, he used the same photomicrographic technique he’d perfected shooting thousands of images of individual snowflakes. Rather than try to transport the fleeting, fragile structure, he shot the web in situ with a microscope attached to his camera and a black pail as a backdrop. The light reflecting off the dew contrasts dramatically with the dark background, articulating every tiny orb of water and connective arc of the spider’s spiral. The web pattern is wonderfully wabi-sabi, some lines subtly askew, a signature of their spindly maker. Bentley’s image is exquisite and mesmerizing, almost metaphysical, having a sort of hypnotic effect the longer you gaze at our gossamer subject. Crystalline spheres suspended on impossibly fine strands of spider silk … is this an apparition? Of course, it’s utterly of this earth, but that’s entirely the point. Bentley eternally marveled at the magic of nature, and his profound appreciation for her miracles comes beaming through.
Bentley lived in his family’s Vermont farmhouse his whole life. While it might seem a remote existence for someone who made a career of before-his-time scientific breakthroughs, it kept him close to nature, tied in with the seasons, grounded in his happy place. As we mentally prepare for what might be a wearying winter, it’s comforting to consider Bentley’s enthusiasm for changing weather, his passion for our atmosphere’s peculiarities, and his fondness for everything from snowflakes to the exploits of creepy crawlers. Call it perspective. All we know is, we’ll make dew.
With art for everyone,