The Ice Serpent

From Pictorial Artistry: The Dramatization of the Beautiful in Photography
"This striking and fantastic semblance, etched in the ice by the slanting beams of the late afternoon sun, lasted but a few minutes… just long enough for me to recover from the excitement of my discovery and intense admiration of its dramatic beauty to take the picture. How my imagination responded! I visioned the icy spectacle as the glittering trail left by a monstrous sea serpent that had just slithered away from behind the great rock in the foreground to plunge into the depths of the sparkling water beyond, leaving behind, the glitter of a thousand shining scales on the frosted surface. And to think… this all happened on a lake in Central Park, New York City.
S-curve. Although the graceful lines and fine gradations of tone tend toward the lyrical, I feel the composition is basically dramatic. The dominating mass of snow-covered rock in the foreground is the source from which the S-curve springs, making the latter of secondary importance in the dramatic sense. The fantastic mystery of the interpreted analogy intensifies the interest, and the great sweep of line to the far distance and woodland gives a feeling of vastness… of space unlimited… a world such as my imaginary super-reptile could move in with ease and comfort.
Technical Problems:
Happening on the scene as suddenly as I did, permitted little time for speculation; it meant rapid thinking and action. Shutter speed, film, filter factors, stops, etc., had to be adjusted while I concentrated on what I saw and felt. My split-personality method worked quite successfully. The great contrast of light called for over-exposure, with careful reduction later in the darkroom to bring out the desired balance. The foreground was considerably toned down and the sparkle of the S-curve greatly emphasized to bring out the splendor and drama of its beauty. Since only one exposure was possible at the time, I had to be right. This reliability and coordination of experience and knowledge proves the worth of the care, the time, and the trouble taken by the serious pictorialist to achieve perfection in his work.
Camera: Ihagee, 4x6cm
Lens: Tessar
Stop: f.16
Filter: Medium Yellow
Exposure: 1/5 on tripod
Plate: Illingworth Lightning
Print: Tuma Gas (blue-toned)"
by Adolf Fassbender, 1937
Currently not on view
date made
before 1937
Fassbender, Adolf
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
image: 11 in x 8 7/8 in; 27.94 cm x 22.5425 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Adolf Fassbender, Pictorial Artistry
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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