It began with those sad, lonely gloves orphaned and alone -- separated from their mates and strewn on random sidewalks, roads and fences.
Camera in hand, Andy Mattern moved from Albuquerque, N.M., to the University of Minnesota three years ago. He's teaching photography and working on a fine arts master's degree. While he catalogued 300 lost gloves, his master's thesis veered slightly off course.
"As I'm looking around on streets for more gloves," he explained, "I would notice these black blocks of ice from afar and think they were gloves."
Instead, he realized he was looking at something he's not sure has a proper name: The ice chunks that form behind the wheels of vehicles and then eventually drop or get kicked to the curb.
"I kicked them off my car like everybody else, but to me they were totally exotic and literally something I'd never seen," Mattern said. "I became interested in their contours and shapes."
He started collecting the whatevertheyares and bringing them back to his West Bank studio in white plastic garbage bags and lining them in a cold alley for storage.
"I'm interested in de-contextualizing them, and I think there's something kind of special about their life span," Mattern said, "where they coalesce, then fall and then disappear. I wanted to take them out of that and give them a little moment of glory."
He hangs the ice chunks with fishing line in his studio and lights them with strobes against a pure white backdrop so "the object is the only thing the camera really sees."
His master's thesis photo show, called Driven Snow, is a play on words "because it's the opposite of what we think of when we say driven snow."
His images will be part of seven graduate students' work displayed at the end of March in a exhibit called "Mountains Were Oceans" at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota. Until then, you can check out his work at www.andymattern.com.
Besides the ice chunks, Mattern has photographed the melted debris puddles they left behind in old photo trays.
"It started as an accident when I cleaned the studio and became interested in how they corresponded to the original shapes," he said.
He developed a third element by transferring the debris on to clean paper for so-called photograms.
Mattern and his wife, physical therapy student Aubrey Rimer, will probably head back home to their families in New Mexico after graduating this spring. But Minnesota, with its missing gloves and ice chunks, will always have a special spot. Mattern proposed two summers ago on Eagle Mountain, the state's highest point along the North Shore.
"It was as epic as I could get," he said.
• • •
If you would like to propose a name for the ice chunks that form on cars, e-mail them to curt.brown@ startribune.com.