Matthew Wheeler, "Ice Train," Robson Valley, B.C., 1983.
Matthew Wheeler, Blurred Vision
By Rod Chapman
Matthew Wheeler breaks all the rules of photography. He makes his own lenses out of river ice and cleans them with his fingers, rubbing and polishing with the palm of his hand. When he photographs, he wants to see through a thin layer of water. In Wheeler's world, tiny imperfections in the ice add to the effect.
"The process of ice lens photography is a mixture of great frustration and exhilaration," he says. "It takes great patience, holding a melting lens, trying to focus by hand and compose, making even a still life into a fleeting, moving target. No two successive images can ever be the same."
A freelance artist, writer and photographer who lives at the base of Mt. Robson in McBride, B.C., Wheeler's lenses are made using glacier melt water from the rivers and streams in the Rocky Mountain Trench. Bubbles and cracks in the ice create flaring and distortion - images captured through an ice lens are "like a conscious roaming in a dream."
To make the lenses, precision machining is not required; lids, saucers and whatever else is convex and handy can be used. Wheeler melts the ice into lenses about an inch and a half thick. Using plumbing adaptors, he fits them to his camera. Out in the field he lets nature take its course - by the time he is finished shooting, many of his lenses have melted to less than three-quarters of an inch. Back home in his lab, Wheeler creates prints from 35 mm transparencies using digital output, replicating the original image as much as possible.
In April, 2003, the Discovery Channel ran a segment on his unique technique on the Daily Planet program. A clip may be viewed at www.exn.ca.