Wilson A. Bentley Photographs
Scope and Content Note
The Jericho Historical Society was offered the privilege of copying a large collection of lantern slides made by W.A. Bentley. With the help of a grant from the Vermont Historical Society, 130 of the slides were copied as both black-and-white 35 mm slides and 8-by-10 archival prints. Five sets of prints were made, one each for the Jericho Historical Society, The Vermont Historical Society, University of Vermont Special Collections, Amy Bentley Hunt of Jericho, and Ralph Whttemore of Paulet, Vermont. The slides had been the property of Mr. Whittemore's aunt Alice Bentley Hamalaian, who gave them to him. The two sets of slides are at the Jericho Historical Society.
The captions were written with the help of Mrs. Amy B. Hunt, niece of W.A. Bentley. In some cases a photo has been published in "Snow Crystals" by W.A. Bentley and W.J. Humphries, (reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc. 1962). These photos are identified and reference is given to the page of the Dover edition where the photo appeared.
This collection shows W.A. Bentley as a photographer of great talent and artistic sense beyond the technical ability requisite to his snowflake photography. Especially notable is the photo, No 24, of logging on Bolton Mountain. Using a 6 by 8 glass plate view camera in the winter snows and cold of the late 1800's to take a picture of such detail and artistic merit shows us a Bentley of much wider ability than the one we know as the photographer of snowflakes.
Furthermore the unpublished photos of clouds by W.A. Bentley are as notable as the famous "Equivalents" series of Steiglitz. Both series, for vastly different reasons, are statements about their creators and the medium they used.
The peculiar and rare snow formation in photo number 119 was taken on January 19, 1906. Mr. Bentley reported on the phenomenon in the Monthly Weather Review of July 1906, page 326. The same photo is in the article.
This collection also show some ways that Bentley struggled to expand the possibilities of the medium. In two of the photos, No.s 5 and 6, he used his snowflake technique to achieve his desired effect. Since he used ortho film, sensitive to blue light, the sky in his negatives would be black, and thus white in the print. His contact printing techniques could not correct this. He must have found this effect unacceptable. No likes white skies. To avoid this problem he merely removed the emulsion from the sky portion of the negative. In photo No. 6, he apparently tried to retouch the top of the mountain to shade it into the sky.
In doing this work I have noticed that many of the slides are not of very high quality. I suspect that they are either duplicates not quite as good as the ones he mounted and used, or are imperfect copies that he did not wish to use but did not want to throw out. Very few are mounted for projection and Mr. Bentley would probably not want them shown. As survivors of his art they tell much of how he worked and the standards he set himself.
All photos were made on 35 mm film with a Pentax Spotmatic camera and 50 mm Takumar Macro lens. Original slides were mounted on an opal glass light box having three25-w, small based, frosted, white lights for the light source.
All photos were taken on Panatomic-X film. Slides were processed with Kodak Direct Positive chemicals. Negatives were developed in Kodak HC 110.
Prints on Ilford paper were processed by archival methods, including toning with selenium toner. All prints were made as directly as possible from the negatives, using a minimum of burning and dodging. All prints are of the whole slide, and in many cases Mr. Bentley's notes on exposure, numbers scratched on the edges where the lantern slide mask would cover them, are visible in the prints.
Some of the snowflake photos have Bentley's serial number on them. He numbered consecutively all snowflake photos taken throughout his lifetime. A lower number indicates an older photo.
A few photos were made from negatives owned by Mrs. Amy B. Hunt. They were copied as slides and printed, or printed directly from the original negative.
The Lighthall Darkroom Mary G. Lighthall July 1978
- circa 1885-1929
- Bentley, W.A. (Wilson Alwyn) (Person)
Collection is open for research.
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.
Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931) lived in the Nashville area of Jericho, Vermont. His parents were Thomas Edwin Bentley and Fanny Eliza Colton. He had one brother, Charles. Charles' wife was Mary Blood. Charles and Mary Bentley had eight children, Alric, Agnes, Arthur, Alice, Archie, Amy, Anna, and Alwin.
Bentley's relatives and neighbors were subjects for his photographs. He also helped city children spend summers in the area and took photos of them. The proper spelling of the names of two of these girls, Dulacher, is not known.
0.2 Linear Feet (130 prints)
Language of Materials
W.A. Bentley (1865-1931) is best known for his lantern slides of snowflakes, which gave him his nickname. This collection shows Bentley as a photographer of great talent and artistic sense beyond the technical ability requisite to his snowflake photography. Bentley’s relatives and neighbors, in Jericho, Vt., are the subjects of the photographs, as well as unpublished photographs of clouds, and some unpublished photographs of snowflakes. The collection illustrates how Bentley worked and the standards he set for himself.
Silver Special Collections, Howe Library; contact email@example.com for access.
- Mary G. Lighthall
- 1978 July
- Language of description
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