BLOG: To Become Visible

Pictographs
  • Rock Paint Lake

    This collection of rock paintings from Lake County, Oregon, represent a variety of places, designs, and expressions. In most examples some of the context is shown, then a close-up.  All the close-up painted images have some digital color enhancement.  This abstracts and distorts their appearance. Yet it may open a better understanding of the original painting.

    OK, this is about as technical as I will get.  If you simply wish to enjoy the pictures, click Rock Paint Lake and take look. 

    I use Aperture* to adjust because I can maintain some sense of the natural stone.  However, two remarkable enhancement software tools are available and both can produce wonderful benefits. They are intended for paintings, though not all will be happy with the sometimes garish, contrasty colors. Nonetheless, they are frequently used as study tools and can be quite revealing, even delightfully shocking. I will welcome a comparison of the two.

    DStretch, the classic for PCs by Jon Harman, is now available as iDStretch for iPad and iPhone for $20.  www.dstretch.com/iDStretch/index.html

    LabStretch & LabStretch2, recent –free- offerings for iPad and iPhone from Rupestrian CyberServices, was developed by Robert Mark & Evelyn Billowww.rupestrian.com/labstretch.html

    I now use the iPhone 6s for all photos in "normal" distance and find the results excellent. iPhone zoom photos are not useful**.  So, now I will use the light-weight ultra-zoom Canon SX60; sensor is small, but with RAW and JPEG capability. (All the photos on this album are with a Nikon D5100.)

    * A note on Aperture. Apple has ceased further development though v. 3.6 works fine.  I am switching for simplicity to Apple OS’s newer PHOTOS and work on an iMac. If you love full-frame DSLRs and Photoshop my choices will not work for you. But for excellent results for online networking with some print capability, iPhone and PHOTOS is nicely integrated. (** iPhone 7 promises to go even further toward DLSR/zoom capabilities.) 

    Click this deep-shadow image to see photos.

  • Claimings, Reclaimings: Tule Lake

    Tule Lake.  A place of conflict, beauty, contradiction, extraction, preservation, jurisdiction, nurturance, and striking geologic presence.  Visiting Petroglyph Point or one of few caves with paintings, both part of the Lava Beds National Monument, is accessible and rewarding.  However, if one becomes curious about these places and spaces, the peoples and animals come and gone and come again, the winds of history, prehistory, planning, and accident quickly buffet, even shred, assumptions.

    The Rock Art. There are many studies with various facts, beliefs, and conjectures, which may be dated, fragmentary, or not well-grounded. We are reminded all interpretation risks concocting explanations by aligning selective facts or suppositions.  What to do?  Go out and look around!

    Meanwhile, for background study I suggest starting with the informed work of Robert David. His 2012 dissertation offers a fairly comprehensive bibliography related to Klamath Basin rock art with many references directly applicable to the Tule Lake area. Online, open access: The Landscape of Klamath Basin Rock Art (2012).

    Further:  Julian Steward (1929 & 1937), Robert Heizer & C. William Clewlow Jr (1973), B.K. Swartz Jr.  (1978), Helen Crotty (1979 & 1981), Georgia Lee & William Hyder (various 1980s & 1990s), James Keyser et al. (2006). For Fern Cave, internet searches offer a range of information, though many studies are not public. 

    The Place. Two books to open doors.
    Balancing Water: Restoring the Klamath Basin. 2000. Tupper Ansel Blake, Madeleine Graham Blake, and William Kittredge.

    Hell with the fire out: a history of the Modoc War. 1997. Arthur Quinn.

    Two photo pages:  Petroglyphs/Tule Lake.  Rock Paintings/Lava Beds 

  • Diagrams: Finding out in the Oregon desert

    Carl Jung relates the story, in a larger context concerning transformation, of an old man, reputed to be a sorcerer, who sought refuge in a cave, “seeking to know what it was that he did not know, but which, he felt certain, was always happening. After meditating for a very long time on that which is beyond meditation, he saw no other way of escape from his predicament than to take a piece of red chalk and draw all kinds of diagrams on the walls of his cave, in order to find out what that which he did not know might look like. After many attempts he hit on the circle. ‘That’s right,’ he felt, ‘and now for a quadrangle inside it!’ - which made it better still.” [1] 

    Is it fair to invoke Jung and Euro-tales when considering indigenous rock paintings, red ochre on black desert basalts in the Great Basin? It is a lingering question I will always consider. Yet Jung’s concept of the underlying structure of human consciousness – and the unconscious – offers for me one avenue to deeper understanding of predicament: to find out what that which he did not know might look like.

    To the degree the human mind is a part of a naturalistic, animated universe, the stone, the ochre, the image reveal presence immemorial through the mind and hand of the painter.

    [1] Selected from Concerning Rebirth (1950) in C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Bollingen, Princeton University Press, 1959.  p.129 para 233.

    Diagrams: Finding out in the Oregon desert

  • Ambiguities in Forms and Realities

    Something can be whole only by having a hole.  Bernhard Siegert*

    Two red images painted on light stone. Or a single image – the animal-like figure and the circle-form, each attending to the other. Circle unstable, perhaps a sphere. Or hole?  If so, emergence, entrance, or in-between?  Animal, shifting into spirit? Looking, the fading, slowly dissolving, oscillating painting provokes in me a presence compressing time into now.

    Stepping back expands the physical presence of the placement, the place, the space. To the left on the dark basalt petroglyphs appear - pecked markings by indigenous peoples, perhaps others, arriving, departing before or after the painter of animal/circle-spirit/sphere. Did each artist-maker look and wonder at those markings, recognize intent and being? Together the images, the stone, the sky expanse, and the distant valley all conspire to infuse the place with story, a changing narrative as yet becoming.

    Other photos: A Rock Painting

    * From "Material World," Bernhard Siegert in conversation with Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. Artforum, Summer 2015, 324-333.
    Note: Image below is digitally enhanced to better show the painting’s forms.

  • Red paintings of Devil’s Lake

    At Devil’s Lake Pass, near the Cascades Lakes Highway west of Mt. Bachelor, the traveler may discover significant central Oregon pictographs, red-ochre paintings, on boulders of an obsidian dome. As early as 1920, a writer offered her fanciful interpretation of these rock paintings in a vacation travel article in the Sunday Oregonian, referring to the “picture writing” as a “red warning” … a “dread message” to the Indian about the dangers of nearby waters. 

    One motif is probably the most recognized pictograph image south of the Columbia.  This motif (inverted) is illustrated in Cressman (1937), though he did not visit the site, which is on Forest Service lands in Deschutes County. The Lorings (1982) offer a good overview as site 81: Devils Lake Pass. It is disturbing the site has been badly vandalized at times – and also admirably restored. For example, a serious bright blue spray painting in the 1970s instilled doubt the images could be saved. A group of paintings was chiseled off and stolen in the late 1960s. 

    To view images:  Devils Lake    
    Examples of other rock paintings in central Oregon with apparent cultural affinities:
    Picture Gorge and Umpqua River.  

    Errata.
    - A fine summary of the geology is provided by Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory, which uses the most distinct and notable image as its logo.
    The only earth rock on the moon came from a volcanic dome near Devil’s Lake. In the mid-1960s, astronauts trained along the Cascade Lakes Highway in preparation for the Apollo missions to the moon. In 1971, Astronaut Jim Irwin of the Apollo 15 mission placed an earth rock from a volcanic dome near Devils Lake on the lunar surface. Cascade Lakes Highway

  • Traversing the Oregon Badlands

    Where else can you leave one of the microbrew centers of the West, drive half an hour and hike right into an official Wilderness? Well, Bend to the Oregon Badlands.  Where else can you traverse a dry river that during the wetter years of the Pleistocene was a rushing river cutting a gorge and narrow canyons through the basalt. Millennia of churning water also ground hollows, often called tinajas in desert areas, which can hold water long after the a seasonal river disappears.  These modest water catchments were an attractive, even essential, water source for desert dwellers and travelers.  And places where painted or carved symbols or signs may appear.

    One such rock painting is located on an oval rock face near bedrock tinajas in a Dry River slot canyon in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, east of Bend.  Though now faded, the simple design is precise, even poised.  Whether marker, a prayer, a signal of gratitude, or perhaps recognition of the power of place, I delighted in the beauty of this quiet congruence.

    Note: This general area, along the Dry River Trail, is known as the Bombing Range, due to its use as a gunnery and, yes, bombing range in WW II.  Big Bad Lands. This pictograph place is thus so named in the Lorings’ compilation as site 83. There is another rock painting locale a few miles to the southeast within the upper Dry River Canyon (Lorings’ site 84), on adjacent, non-Wilderness BLM lands. 

    About the Badlands:  ONDA -  an organization instrumental is the 2008 designation of Oregon Badlands Wilderness by the then-do-something-good US Congress. 

    Below, tinaja in canyon's basalt near Dry River rock paintings

  • What is an image?

    This rock painting is an image, faded, now barely discernible.  But where does the image begin?  And, where does it end?  In this case the image is not simply the lines of red ochre forming a design. It is also the distinct, slender triangle of basalt pointing downward.  It is the crevices that set apart this sculptural form.  By extension it is the surround, the place, image embodied as narrative relationship, moving inward and out.

    Image is an elusive word for concepts used by many to denote a range of meanings.  I will go with James Elkins who said, in The Domain of Images, for his purposes, “an image is patterns on surfaces, taken in by the eye.” He adds, an image is the same as a “visual artifact.” [1]

    The second image at work here is the photograph, another pattern on a surface. The diverse images in the album display selected framings of this singular rock painting.  Some with modifications of contrast and coloration to help “see-again” the painted image. The painter saw, made, lived in, and understood a context very different than I as I stood before it.  And very different than the one you view on the screen, as a digital rectangle. Together, the images tell a story in the present pointing to a time past and implying time forward.  Now it’s your story.

  • The Presence of the Visual: Rock Painting at Canyon de Chelly

    Two discrete sandstone walls in the remote areas of the upper wash of the main canyon of Canyon de Chelly hold distinctive rock paintings. They appear as markedly different traditions and expressions. Both are pigment with binders applied to the stone surface. Each is located in a sheltered curve of a smooth rock face. Both are present in place, melding material and gesture to arch across time.

    Sally Cole in Legacy on Stone* argues for the use of “rock painting” rather than the more common “pictograph.” I agree. Pictograph is the word usually put forth to distinguish painted images from petroglyphs. It seems to me the term risks misleading rather than illuminating. As does “picture writings,” in common use for decades. The language of rock art often struggles between art historical thinking and archaeological categorization. Interpretation, fantasy, and speculation bring along other rich veins of textual treatment. (For the moment I will set aside the most obviously problematic term - “rock art” – promising to take that up at another time.)

    Meanwhile, back in the canyon, the figurative, iconic or indexical, and precisely articulated rock paintings continue to resonate across centuries and the dry and watered lands. For now, let’s think not about what they say or how we wish to say it - let's simply see.

    Note: Photos from a week-long camp in the Canyon in 2007 coordinated by Gary Tepfer. Gary is a professional photographer who has guided this annual trip since 1990, though photography is not the primary emphasis. His next trip is mid-October 2014. He also leads a week in May in the Chuska Mountains, on the Navajo Reservation, under the guidance of Harry Walters.  Tepfer Trips.  Gary Tepfer's Southwest Rock Art.  “Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. 2009 (Revised and Updated).  A good overview: Campbell Grant’s Canyon de Chelly: Its People and Rock Art. 1978.

  • What It Is: the elusive persistence of rock art

    Dog Creek Cave is, Rick Colman tells me on our stroll Sunday to view and photograph the pictographs, a grotto. Located a few miles northwest of the famous Steamboat Inn on the North Umpqua River, it’s two miles north of the river on Forest Service lands. The meander to get here, though, includes a 12-mile drive on four forest roads and a two-mile hike on a well-done forest trail.

    Why pictographs here, when there are so very few sites in the western Cascades?  And why such a variety in the few dozen motifs and figures at this remote site?  Writers and researchers tend  to generalize - “Columbia Plateau influence” or a spirit-power quest location - or particulate - “it's an insect.”  Maybe. The truth feels deeper, more nuanced, reflective of a way of being-in-the-world difficult to grasp for this 21st century observer. 

    Answers elude.  Yet, consider the observations of the Lorings (1983) about the similarity of some figures at Dog Creek to some at Picture Gorge on the upper John Day River and other sites east of the Cascades.  Too, somewhat similar to possibly older motifs at Bottle Creek, an isolated and modest rock shelter overlooking the Umpqua River about 60 miles downstream from Dog Creek.

    Below, details:  Dog Creek (top). Picture Gorge (middle).  Bottle Creek (bottom).

  • Cape Horn Pictographs Fading, yet Telling

    It is testimony to the patient observation and recording of the Lorings and of Woodward/Speciale in the 1970s that they were able to document a good sampling of the rock art at Cape Horn before it fades or erodes away. The pictographs are very faded, except for one that appears more recent with more thickly applied pigment. During a recent brief visit I found the rock art difficult to see well, or decipher, and many could not be found.  

    The stacked image below compares, from top:  an enhanced photo from a recent visit; the Lorings sketch (published 1982 as within Site 5); and Woodward/Speciale’s interpretative rendering (1982).  All the images are severely "displaced" for purposes of illustration and comparison - and to show the difficulty in seeing and documenting weathering rock art. And, by implication, the challenge of understanding the relationship of this site and its rock art within a regional context.

    The top image, dramatically enhanced (Aperture) and isolated for study purposes, is well above the high river mark on a basalt cliff face. It appears to be a shield figure, which would link it to the eastern Columbia Plateau; perhaps further south.  (I’ve seen a few similar petroglyphs in Owyhee Canyonlands.)  Woodward notes, “Unusual is the occurrence here of numerous elements that may be abstract representations of the vulva or shield motifs” (38).

    More photos:  Cape Horn, Columbia River

  • Paisley Caves Pictographs

    Paisley Caves Pictographs

    Dennis Jenkins and a site volunteer pointed out pictographs at Paisley Caves during a site visit, June 2009.  They have not been described or analyzed.  Though clearly much more recent than the human remains dated at 14,000 years BP*, the pictographs are of great interest, indicating habitation at the Summer Lake site spanning many millenia.  *Paisley Caves has yielded the oldest human remains (DNA in coprolites) in North Ameriica. For more about Paisley Caves, see article by Dennis Jenkins.

    Photo: Detail of one pictograph, a (faded) bi-sected circle encompassed by a larger circle. See Gallery in Index for more images.