Trumansburg, N.Y. — A local photographer has found vast worlds and panoramic landscapes within the narrow confines of a mundane, frozen bench.

(Courtesy of Frank Leahy Art & Photography, as are all images in this story)

Frank Leahy is a full-time caregiver. His wife has debilitating MS, he said in an interview.

Frank Leahy

But his photography experiment, “snow bench 2014” — republished here with his permission — allowed him to find new and foreign vistas without so much as straying a mile from home.

“I’m trying to find the worlds that are right there,” Leahy said in an interview Sunday about his project.

The frozen bench he photographed may appear “mundane and boring, but I try to look in there and see what’s in there,” he said.

The project began with an idea. And an Upstate NY frost that proved, for once, actually useful.

“Monitoring the weather conditions, I make ice on the front porch when it is especially cold,” Leahy wrote on his blog last winter.

Leahy took the ice to a bench outside his house in Trumansburg, by Taughannock creek. Leahy made the bench himself out of yew wood.

The ice in place, Leahy began adding food coloring. He followed up by placing balloons, metal bowls, plastic bags, food containers — “whatever is handy” — on the bench, he said.

Leahy used his trusty Kodak 6.1mp camera to search every crevice and angle in the bench. He worked at night and during the day — “it’s kind of kooky-looking … but the neighbors know what’s going on,” he said with a laugh.

Cold, shivering, alone, Leahy plumbed the depths of undiscovered, unsullied land like an explorer or astronaut.

He does not photoshop the images once they are taken. He does not use flash. The most he’ll do is remove flecks of dirt he accidentally inserted himself.

“In the old days, we would call it ‘straight photography,’ ” he said.


Leahy lights the images at night through a variety of methods. For some, Leahy takes a strand of LED lights and puts them together.

“I try to keep it very simple, and limited, so I’m not trying a million things,” Leahy said. “I’m trying to keep it limited to not a lot of extras.”

The snow bench from last winter stayed up for a few weeks. Leahy was out photographing it in temperatures as low as -10 degrees and as high as 52 degrees.

Of course, it soon started to melt. Then it vanished.

The worlds were gone, but Leahy still had his artwork — which can be seen in full online here — and its meaning to ponder.

What are those mesmerizing images really about?

“To me, it’s about the color, the surface, the texture — pushing the ice to the limit of what it can be,” Leahy said. “Exploring it.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.