Snow Storms Are Rough Business

March 20, 2014

A windy snow storm blows flakes all about in this photo of the Randolph coal sheds along the railroad tracks. (Herald File / Bob Eddy) Twenty-one years ago, on March 13, 1993, Central Vermont suffered a huge snowstorm I’d forgotten until it was mentioned on Facebook last week.

Anna Sease of Randolph related the story of my gallant but failed attempt to plow her driveway after that snowfall.

I had just purchased my first plow truck, very well used, naming her, ‘Bottom Feeder,’ referencing her plowing abilities and imminent salvage status.

Out riding the roads for snow shots, I spied Lee and Anna Sease struggling to free cars from deep drifts about their home below the road in a small hollow next to the river. Possessing the enthusiasm and confidence of a rookie, I took Bottom Feeder down into that pit of a driveway to save the day.

I managed to get quite stuck. Another truck and several hours of work were required to free me.

Tough on the Lens

In a tip of my hat to the anniversary, I looked through photographs of winter storms past for this week’s Second Look. In the search, I found that snowstorms are as difficult to photograph as they are to plow out from!

Over almost three decades with The Herald, I have taken over half a million photographs. Most of these, mercifully, were never enlarged. Still, there are thousands upon thousands of prints, many taken during the winter. Very few, however, depict snowstorms as they are happening. Hundreds of photographs show deep snow after the storm has passed. Many rolls of film record our digging out. There are shots aplenty of snowy scenes and winter sport. Images taken during storms, however, are few.

Why is this?

We tend to hunker down as snow is falling, and having few people out and about diminishes opportunities for good imaging. Also, taking precious equipment into the elements is risky.

A deeper truth, however, is snowstorms are tough to photograph well. Snow obscures the scene, and good subjects are hard to find. How many images of street plows can one publish?

This photograph, taken in the midst of a big storm in the nineties, is one of few storm shots in my files. It shows snow swirling about the ancient bulking shapes of the Randolph coal sheds, beside the railroad north of Main Street, the massive architecture receding away from us along the tracks.

Consider, for a moment, how you scan this photograph to comprehend its content, and how that process differs from being in the storm at the same scene. Out in the snow, all our senses are engaged; our eyes follow the sounds and movements of snow, darting about the landscape. Viewing this photograph of that scene on the printed page is a wholly different.

From the time we first read words, we have learned to begin at the upper left of the printed page. We do this to read the words in their intended order. Unconscious-ly, we tend to read photographs the same way.

When we look to the upper left of this photograph, we encounter nothing but white! Confusion reigns until we come across to the right side of the scene. Now we understand. This is a large building. Snow is falling; cascading down the slope of roof, being whipped up and away from us by great winds. As we move through the view again, now from right to left, the building shapes dissemble, as the gathering snow obscures more and more detail.

To understand what is going on here, we have to work our way across the page from left to right and back again. In this small journey of the eye, perhaps we begin to feel the snow, the bitter cold, the wind beating upon our back.

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