Photographer Makes a Camera Lens with Ice from an Iceberg

How far would you go to make a photograph? For Mathieu Stern, the answer lies at the most remote ends of the earth. Over two years ago, a crazy idea struck the young artist. If glass is capable of focusing light, he thought, could ice do the same? An experimenter by nature, Stern became determined to test his hypothesis:

First, he used a 3D printer to print a lens body capable of holding the hypothetical ice lens in place. Easy enough.

Once that was done, the next step was to shape some ice into a working optical lens. In order to accomplish that, some creative crafting and thinking outside of the box were necessary. Stern ultimately modified a metal ice ball maker to make the optical half sphere necessary to harness light. However, the biggest issue to overcome proved to be finding ice pure enough to create a clear image.

So, in the summer of 2018, Stern trekked out to Iceland, over 3,000 kilometers from his home.

making a camera lens out of ice

In the sparsely populated country, he collected glacier water that had been purified over the course of 10,000 years. From there, he traveled out to Jökulsáròn, one of the island’s famous black sand beaches. Ready to see if he could bring his idea to life, he began the arduous process of freezing lenses. Each took a full 45 minutes to form. The first four lenses ended up breaking before they could be tested at all. Finally, the fifth attempt fit into Stern’s custom-made lens body.

Custom ice lens body

While the artist only had a minute to use his creation before it melted completely, he successfully managed to snap a few shots of the beautiful landscape!

Mathieu Stern Ice Lens

photographing with ice

ancient camera lens

Technically, the results aren’t perfect. But there’s something mesmerizing about the bleeding colors and amorphous objects each image has to offer. What’s more, it’s hard not to admire the shots knowing just how much went into their creation. There’s no doubt that very few people would go to such lengths for their photographs. But, for the small minority willing to go the distance, the reward is more than worth the hours of trial and error.

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