Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rock Art Resources

Chaco Canyon

(Titles link to Amazon.  Used copies are often available at a fraction of the original cover price.)

Handbook of Rock Art Research, David S. Whitley,Editor
A comprehensive overview of current rock art research methodology and theoretical approaches incorporating new carbon dating techniques, relevant ethnographic accounts and links to neuropsycological investigations.

The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, David Lewis-Williams
The shamanic and vision quest origins of rock art from a neuropsychological perspective.

Images in Stone, David Muench and Polly Schaafsma, 1995
Astonishing photographic images by Muench of rock art sites in the Western United States with a text by Polly Schaafsma.

Rock Art of the American Southwest, Fred Hirschman and Scott Thybony, 1994
Very fine large-format photography by Fred Hirschman.

A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest, Alex Patterson, 1992
A catalog of rock art symbols with suggestions for interpretation.

Rock Art in New Mexico, Polly Schaafsma, 1992
A well-illustrated over-view of the region by a scholar.

Signs of Life: Rock Art of the Upper Rio Grande, Dennis Slifer, 1998
A practical guidebook to publicly-accessible rock art sites.

Piedras Marcadas

Rock Art postings on my blogs:

* * *  

Gambler's House
Chaco Canyon, Its World, and Ours. A blog, mostly about ancient Puebloan cultures. There are numerous articles on the topic of Rock Art.

Flickr Rock Art Group
A large catalog of rock art photographs, mostly from the Southwest U.S.

Rock Art Southwest
New Mexico rock art sites portrayed by Santa Fe graphic designer and photographer, Gary Cascio.

Turing instabilities in biology, culture, and consciousness? On the enactive origins of symbolic material culture.  A paper about the origins of geometric rock art designs in the structures and functions of the human brain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016



O  More of the same

O  Worse

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Haiku and Photography

Haiku poetry and photography are expressive art forms which share both techniques and effects.  Both have the capacity to evoke an idea or an emotion while using very spare resources.  Both rely on the engagement of the imagination to achieve full appreciation, while also  using a bit of ambiguity to good effect.  The comparison might be extended to include any kind of visual art such as painting or drawing, but it seems to me that photography's capacity to instantaneously capture a very narrow slice of time and distill its essence into two dimensions brings it closer to haiku.  Some of  the old haiku masters sometimes accompanied their poems with simple brush drawings.  It may be possible to similarly combine haiku and photos provided that the connections are not too simplistic or maudlin.

Some techniques shared by haiku and photography include:
Rhythmic patterns
Incongruous or unexpected juxtaposition
Perspective emphasis or distortion
Selective framing
Selective focus
subtle gradations of tone or shading.
The best description and analysis of haiku techniques I have come across is a short article by Jane Reichhold, who with her husband edited a journal of Haiku.  Her explanations have directness and clairty which is often lacking in critical writing about art.  She also is able to use her considerable creative talents to provide illustrative examples of the techniques she identifies.  Here, for instance, is one of my favorites in which she is talking about the "technique of the Sketch or Shiki's Shasei", a focus on reality, simply said:
waves come into the cove
one at a time
Haiku in the English language has a history of somewhat over a century in length.  Quite  a lot of authors have taken a stab at reconciling the major linguistic differences with translations between Japanese and English.  Many different styles of Haiku in many languages have come and gone over the years.  Much of the production in English during the first half-century used the 17-syllable form expressed in three lines of 5,7 and 5.  In recent times, shorter forms are favored and there is less emphasis on natural and seasonal themes.

It is probably no coincidence that I mostly like photographic work and haiku from roughly the same era which preceded the advent of  the digital age.  The photo books in my possession feature names like Blossfeldt, Weston, Lange, Smith, Mann, and Strand.  My favorite haiku author is Richard Wright, who is best known for his novels, including Native Son.  Wright died at age 52 in 1960; much of the last year of his life was taken up with the production of four thousand haiku.  Wright picked out the 817 he liked best, likely for publication, but he never saw them in print.  His daughter took on the job and got Wright's haiku work published as "Haiku: This Other World", 1998.  The whole collection is also available on line at the Terebess Asia Online site.

Wright might have a hard time getting his haiku published now.  He stuck doggedly to the now-deprecated 5-7-5 format.  I have no prejudice against shorter form work, but it seems to me that Wright's disciplined consistency is a source of strength and that it produces a very agreeable and identifiable voice for his poetry, as well as drawing on the expressive richness of English in the process.  Here is one of my favorites from near the top of the list:
Keep straight down this block,
Then turn right where you will find
A peach tree blooming.
Finally, I found it very interesting that Wright's daughter mentions, I think in her introduction to the haiku book, that Wright early in his European exile was interested in photography and that he processed his own film and made his own prints.  I don't know if any of that photographic work survived, or if Wright ever talked about any connections between his photographs and his poetry.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

* * *

In new green dresses
celebrating sudden rain
trees dance with the wind

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

a tell

I became seriously interested in Native American rock art when we lived in a remote desert home in southern New Mexico.  Our house was not far from the mouth of Broad Canyon beside the Rio Grande.  All of the rock art examples I found in the canyon were petroglyph designs, created by incising or pecking of smooth rock surfaces.  In near-by canyons to the south there were also a few ancient painted designs which are called pictographs.  It seemed to me to be an extraordinary opportunity to make a connection with indigenous artists, probably shamans in many cases, who had left traces of their cultures dating back centuries.  While the Broad Canyon examples did not display the grandeur and sophistication of those to the north in places like Barrier Canyon, they nevertheless showed a good grasp of design principles.  Broad Canyon petroglyphs often were continuations of themes and designs which persisted for millennia, and were clearly related to indigenous cultures throughout the Southwest, and as far distant as Central America.

It came as something of a shock to me when I first heard someone express the idea that Native American rock art was simply graffiti.  I was at first tempted to write off such a judgment as simple ignorance, which after all is a correctable condition.  Subsequent encounters with such derogatory expressions, however, convinced me that something more nefarious was at play; the denigration of the ancient art was really a signal or gesture which betrayed an underlying attitude, rather similar to a poker player's tell which inadvertently reveals the player's hand or intention.  Such judgments, often asserted rather aggressively, are really just expressions of underlying patterns of racism and xenophobia.  The implications of  such critical derision is that Native American rock art and likely other examples throughout the world was the casual production of slackers incapable of producing real Art.  I've been inclined a few times to offer some historic facts in rebuttal, as well as mentioning the rather wide range of artistic values in actual modern graffiti, but I think it is pretty much a waste of time to try to maintain a dialogue in the face of willful ignorance.

An interesting and persistent variation on the theme of rock art as graffiti is the belief that the ancient designs were produced by someone other than Native Americans.  Here is a passage from Discovering North American Rock Art (quoting Steward from 1937) which pretty well sums up the loopy wing of rock art interpreters:

... Popular fancy musters petroglyphs in support of theories abandoned by science half a century ago.  It offers them as proof that Egyptians, Scythians, Chinese, and a host of other Old World peoples, including the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, whose fate continues to have absorbing interest to many persons, invaded America in ancient days.  It claims them to be markers of buried treasures, signs of ancient astrology, records of vanished races, symbols of diabolical cults, works of the hand of God, and a hundred other things conceived by feverish brains...
 The chapter authors,  Hyder and Loendorf, go on to note that:
Sixty and more years after noted anthropologist and archaeologist Julian Steward made this statement, we would need to add  only aliens from outer space for Steward's assessment to remain true...
I would add that is seems rather likely that a substantial portion of the Lost Tribes theorists are contiguous with those who would have dinosaurs and cave-dwelling humans living in the same era.  Perhaps the tell might be extended even a trifle further to include the fervid supporters of a Trump presidency.

Chaco 2004

The sun announces
The longest day for each year
At Fajada Butte.

Fajada Butte rises up out of the Chacra Mesa about a mile south of the Una Vida great house.  Near the top of the butte is an archaeoastronomical feature known as the "Sun Dagger". The Anasazi carved a spiral there on a rock face on which shafts of sunlight appear at midday to mark the solstices and equinoxes.

Windows to windows,
Doorways to infinity :
A world of mirrors.

Pueblo Bonito is the largest of the Anasazi great houses.  The multi-story complex was built in stages over a 300-year period beginning in about the year 850 A.D. Windows and doorways are frequently aligned in a way that emphasizes a receding perspective similar to what one sees in opposing mirror surfaces.
    Without roofs and surface plastering, the buildings appear much different from when they were in use a thousand years ago. While the structure is revealed in a way that would not have been apparent to Chacoans, the effects of lighting and ceremonial associations can only be guessed at.

One path sets the choice :
Up to Pueblo Alto, or
Down to Kin Kletso ?


Agility and stamina are required to negotiate the trail between the great house of Kin Kletso in the canyon bottom to that of Pueblo Alto high on the mesa above.  Topography is a preeminent shaper of world view for people who do all their traveling on foot. The Anasazi, however, did have an awareness of a world extending far from Chaco Canyon.
    This trail starts in a crack in the canyon wall, then leads to a thirty-foot-wide roadway which extended many miles to the north. It was just one of many such roads radiating out of Chaco Canyon. Precious ceremonial objects and raw materials traveled to Chaco from deep in the interior of what is now Mexico, and from as far west as the Pacific coast. Religious and political traditions traveled over the same pathways.

Tlaloc, the Rain God,
Sometimes dons strange disguise
To walk among us.

This representation of the Rain God is distinctly ornate with its spiral eyes and lace-like decoration. Square-headed, goggle-eyed figures are carved on rock surfaces all along the upper Rio Grande and near-by watersheds.   The origins of the figure can be traced to Central America, but little can be deduced from Anasazi-era representations other than the fact that it was of great importance.

Low doorways expose
The neck of the enemy
At Chetro Ketl. 

No great house doorway permits upright entry other than to a single person with the stature of a small child.  Was this enforced obeisance for the faithful, a defensive measure, or did it serve some other symbolic or ceremonial purpose?   There seems no way to be certain now.

Beneath an overhang,
A record of a supernova –
The swallows don't care.

The massive explosion of a star created the Crab Nebula in the year 1054.  This red painted pictograph may portray the cataclysmic stellar event in the Taurus constellation, but gives no hint as to how it was interpreted by Anasazi astronomers.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

morning walk

Cool shadows beckon,
but soft green leaves conceal thorns;
a caress draws blood.