Lonely Planet Writer

This photographer has been exploring Alaska in search of unique ice patterns

When autumn wanes and winter arrives in Fairbanks, Alaska, photographer Ryota Kajita happily heads outside to explore the icy environment.

To Ryota Kajita, these patterns represent the “beauty and dynamic changes of nature.” Photo courtesy of Ryota Kajita

The Japanese-born photographer has been exploring the remote corners of the northernmost American state for quite some time now, collecting his photographic findings in his “Ice Formations” series— what he looks for are the “ice patterns that appear on the swamps, ponds, lakes and rivers of Interior Alaska.” These patterns are “mysterious and wondrous, delicate and ephemeral,” he explained, and that’s why they fascinate him so much. “They form quietly, change quickly and disappear as I find only a few.”

Ryota Kajita feels like these pictures could inspire a “vital dialogue between a person and their surroundings”. Photo courtesy of Ryota Kajita

Ryota Kajita’s relationship with Alaska goes a long way back, ever since he attended the University of Fairbanks to get his MFA degree in photography. By now, he’s travelled to more than 50 isolated villages by any means of transportation available, from snowmobiles to light aircraft, all to seek for these “transient and small creations,” which he hopes to share with others through his photos.

Nature’s changes are crystallized in this picture, titled “Frozen Bubbles #5”. Photo courtesy of Ryota Kajita

These ice formations, which range in diameter from 10 to 30 inches (25 to 75 centimetres) generally come from frozen bubbles of gases like methane and carbon dioxide trapped under ice. When the water freezes, it turns into ice slowly from the surface down, and it traps the gases— it’s these bubbles, combined with the freezing temperatures, create the unique geometric patterns that Kajita is after. The photographer captures them in his film camera on black and white film. “I scan the negative and tone it digitally in Photoshop,” he explained to Lonely Planet. “By minimising colours, viewers can focus on the elegance of the forms and shading created by clear transparent ice and white frost.”

Ryota Kajita explains that since methane is one of the gases that cause global warming, photographing these formations is also important for environmental reasons. Photo courtesy of Ryota Kajita

“I used to run out into the woods after school and explore places that made up my neighbourhood,” Kajita told Lonely Planet. “As an adult, photographing ice has its roots in my childhood experiences. In this spirit I strive to know the environment at a deeper level,” he added. The photographer hopes to inspire viewers to feel connected to nature and inspire their curiosity about natural phenomena.

Ryota Kajita continues to photograph patterns like this, “Frozen Bubbles #21”, every winter. Photo courtesy of Ryota Kajita

If you want to know more about Ryota Kajita and his work, you can visit the photographer’s official website here.