Six-Inch Galaxies Frozen in Ice

Journalist and photographer Erik Hoffner has spent the past two decades photographing the “unexpected beauty” left behind in the holes drilled by ice fishermen.

Two decades ago, Erik Hoffner moved to Western Massachusetts to find a home in a colder climate. He found it at a house by a lake that froze over in winter. In a pair of skates, Hoffner ventured out into his new landscape, skimming above a dark world beneath the glass. He could see fish swimming beneath his feet.

The lake got more interesting as winter progressed. Ridges and cracks formed on the ice. Then, fishermen descended, using augers to drill small holes in the ice. Hoffner was attracted to the holes, first to see how deep the ice really was. The morning after fishers vacated, he skated to the holes, wiped away snow or frost from the night before — and that’s where he discovered an “unexpected beauty” that would draw him back to the ice, camera in hand, for the next 20 years.

“What’s inside these holes is phenomenal,” he says. “It’s not water anymore, and it’s not ice. It’s this incredible concoction created by the elements.”

Ice Visions, as Hoffner’s series is called, is at once fine art and documentation — abstract imagery that tells a story. As bubbles from the lakebed rise, they shoot up through the center of these holes and radiate outward, slowing down and stretching as the water refreezes. Hoffner’s photographs capture this process in its stunning variety of formations. In some holes, there are galaxies. In others, meteor streaks and wormholes. Some holes look like eyes peering up through a frosty veil. Hoffner’s images create what he calls “a typology of what this people-and-nature nexus looks like.”

And it’s a typology that’s ever-changing. Last winter, which was unseasonably warm for the area, Hoffner saw formations he’d never seen before, as the bubbles “oozed and pooled” in thinner sheets of ice. An environmental journalist by profession, Hoffner saw his work take on new meaning, as climate change has altered even the normally unnoticed details of our physical landscapes.

See more of Hoffner’s work at erikhoffner.com.

Hoffner isn’t done contributing to Ice Visions. As long as conditions are right, he’ll likely be out on the frozen lake, peering through holes in the ice and at the changing universe within. “For me, it’s about having a point of view and getting people to see the world in a different way,” he says about his dual mission as a journalist and fine art photographer. But then he clarifies. This project is as much about changing his own perspective of nature, and finding enjoyment along the way: “It’s really an excuse to go out ice skating.”

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