Graffiti or Art?

Graffiti, art, petroglyphs, defacing public property, whatever you call it, mankind seems to have a need to leave his mark on walls. In modern culture the mark seems to be mostly made with paint, specifically spray paint. In the past, however, the urge to leave one’s mark was by etching on the walls of a canyon, outcrop, or any slab-sided mountain face.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to visit a couple of national parks and a national monument. Dinosaur National Monument in Utah is famous for both fossilized bones of long extinct dinosaurs that were first discovered at the turn of the 20th century and a collection of petroglyphs left by the Fremont people around 1200 years ago. While it is no surprise to see anything in the west with the name Fremont attached to it, these have nothing to do with the famous explorer and one-time presidential candidate John C. Fremont. This indigenous people group lived in the desert along the banks of the Fremont River. You can learn more about their culture at the National Park Service webpage. Unfortunately for us, they didn’t develop a written language, so their lifestyle, culture, and history remain lost to the modern world. These etchings on the walls of the cliff seem to be all that is left.   

The petroglyphs leave behind many questions such as were the pictures the act of some ancient teenage rebel? Were they officially sanctioned by the tribal leadership? Are they supposed to let future generations revel in the accomplishments of the past? I don’t know the answers. Perhaps I am super imposing modern culture over a tribe of people who were merely struggling to survive in a barren landscape.

It seems art, or the need to leave a mark for posterity, is part of the human condition

A couple of months later I was at Arches National Park. In addition to the weathered and sculpted remains of ancient sea beds and lifted mountains, there are petroglyphs here too. Depictions of ancient horses, maybe dogs, and people seem to be only a small part of a larger relief along the rock outcropping near Wolfe Ranch. Unlike the ancient reliefs left by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, these seemingly isolated scratches on the rock surface don’t congeal together to tell a story or brag about the conquest of some neighboring people or tribe. But they don’t have to be.

Modern man with all his technology can’t resist the urge either. Here is an example of a worker or engineer who, while working along the Colorado River, decided to do a selfie. Apparently, he came back later and dated his handiwork twice.

It seems art, or the need to leave a mark for posterity, is part of the human condition. It also serves to remind us that even in places of seemingly austere climate, there are little hidden gems.

Dinosaur National Monument-One of Utah’s hidden treasures

On any vacation there are distinct moments. Like a movie that alternates between eras or from one setting to another, a trip can be a kaleidoscope of experiences and images. Utah with its five national parks has a unique beauty.

In some ways Utah is the image of the old west at its finest. The broad vistas and small rivers make for a contrast that is unique and picturesque. One example is Dinosaur National Monument, nestled in the Wasatch mountains it offers a cool and beautiful river in the midst of a hot, dry desert.

The river contrasts the twisted and layered mountains that are spectacular for both the total lack of trees and the lines that punctuate their horizontal spread and vertical lift. The meandering Yampa River begs for a small boat; a canoe or kayak, or maybe an inflatable.

Within Dinosaur National Monument and nearby the park service’s campground are petroglyphs left by the Fremont people. Etched and painted on the side of the cliffs, the images of lizards, people and other animals like longhorn sheep seem to materialize before the visitor’s eyes the longer they are observed. One lizard turns to three which is next to other images including people. Lingering at the base of the cliff, it is hard to imagine living in this barren place before the modern era.

Looking up at 1200 year old petroglyphs at Dinosaur National Monument

The main event is the fossilized remains of ancient dinosaurs. Insight is perhaps an understatement when talking about the work to explore and bring back dinosaur bones by Earl Douglass. A paleontologist by training, he wrote to Congress asking for a national park site to preserve the incredible cache of fossilized bones, even while digging out bones of an Apatosaurus in 1915, Don’t cheat yourself if you decide to go, take the short bus ride to the dig site. Douglass was right in wanting to preserve the site and you won’t be disappointed. You may never see so many fossilized dinosaur bones in a single location that weren’t placed there by a museum curator.

“You may never see so many fossilized dinosaur bones in a single location that weren’t placed there by a museum curator.”

An ancient log jam pressed together these bones leaving a treasure of fossilized dinosaur remains

Utah is the home to five national parks. While Bryce, Zion and Arches might get all the attention, Dinosaur National Monument, the petroglyphs, and the overall scenery around the Yampa River is worth a trip all by itself.

The Wonder

It wasn’t too early, about 7am. We hadn’t broken camp yet, but the coffee was on and we knew we would be on our way within the hour. Why did a perfect little hummingbird show up? I suppose I could have let him do his thing and admire the beauty of his flight, the way the color of his body and tail stood out against the pine needles and purple flowers as he gently drew the precious nectar out while we sat by eating a light breakfast. But I couldn’t.

So, I grabbed a camera to capture this little wonder of creation. If he was going to pose, I had to take his portrait. But I had the wrong lens on the camera. The photo would have mostly been the flora, not the bird. Out came the 300mm lens and away went the bird.

Waiting, waiting, waiting…should I go break down the tent? One can only expect his friends to wait so long. Waiting…clean up the coffee pot, pack the food, waiting, waiting…the others are collapsing tents, strapping bags to motorcycles.  waiting..is he looking at me from a tree laughing? I guess I’ll give up. Wait! He’s back! Want to pose little guy? He did. I took his portrait.

OLYMPUS OMD-10 MII

Kodak Duaflex IV

Nineteen fifty-nine and sixty had nothing close to an iPhone, especially for taking photos, video, multiple cropping options and sending any of those to your friends on social media. But when it came to making quality point and shoot images, the 60’s had the Kodak Duaflex IV. You might be fooled by the picture of the camera into thinking that it was a twin lens reflex camera along the lines of the Rolleiflex. But looks can be deceiving. There is more distance between the Rollei and this Kodak that between a Tesla and a VW bug. The Duaflex is a Brownie box camera with a viewing lens to compose your shot. No controls outside the shutter button. Even advancing the film is manual, you turn the dial until the next number (written on the back of the paper backing of the film) shows up in the red window on the back of the camera.

For you shutterbugs, this means no creamy bokeh from a fast lens that has your subject in sharp focus and the background blurry. No choice of shutter speed either. Just point and shoot. If the lighting is bad, tuff! What about stopping motion at the little league game? Tuff luck again. Just point and shoot. But after you get past that, this little camera takes amazing photos.

Not unlike the test I did with a couple of 6×9 box cameras a couple of years ago, it is amazing what a piece of film, a shutter, and a little lens can accomplish. To be fair I was using modern film, Kodak T-Max 100. It is much faster than film in 1960 which was probably a standard 25 speed. I remember color film by 1970 was a standard 64 ISO. With a fixed shutter speed of either 1/50 or 1/100 modern film speed seems custom built for this camera.

The images come from Santa Teresa County Park in San Jose and Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco.

One thing that is difficult to replicate with your phone or digital camera is the character of the lens on the Duaflex. I know there are software options to make a new photo look like something from 70 years ago, but is just isn’t the same. The look of film is different, the way the lens falls off in the edges isn’t the same, it just has a unique character. Kinda like a Moto Guzzi it’s just different.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impressed. If time isn’t an issue, these will work out just fine, and I won’t lose them to an internet virus because I can always rescan!

Another COVID walk.

It started out as a just-get-me-out-of-the-house walk to Coyote Creek for a casual stroll.  My COVID walk needed a camera so I picked up a Nikon D7100 and 80-400mm telephoto

It was late in the afternoon and as I strolled, I had an eye out for birds. Big birds, little birds, woodpeckers, finches, the ubiquitous raven and if it was my lucky day an eagle. A group of bicyclists went by. After a while, a trio of three wheeled recumbent cyclists passed.

Suddenly, I saw the shadow of a large bird. Maybe it’s an eagle I said to myself.  He stopped at the base of a couple of trees and then glanced at me and hopped away. So, this is a game of cat and mouse I thought. Taking a couple of steps to find his low perch, he again hopped away to hide. 

I’ll hide myself I thought, and I moved into a shady area that was like a blind in the bright sun. Sure enough, his curiosity got the best of him and he stepped out to take a look. Stepping forward I spied him and caught him looking in my direction. A turkey vulture, how disappointing, I hoped to see a majestic eagle. But he wasn’t done. He gave me the stink eye, took a few steps away to hide again. 

I was not to be bested. He was about 40 yards away, watching me but not wanting to be watched. So, I stepped toward him. He took off. He was not lost to my camera though, he just escaped for now. I spied him a few minutes later and captured these.

Maybe this COVID anxiety has a payoff.

Oxbow Regional Park

I love the Pacific Northwest. The rain leaves it green all year and being a Californian and an Angelino, green all year is a treat. I recently found myself with some extra time on my hands and a camera in my hands so I asked a friend for a place I could burn a couple of hours near Gresham, Oregon. Oxbow Bend Regional Park was her quick reply.

All that green comes at a cost, the cost being cloudy skies and rain. Cloud cover has one advantage: eliminating the extremes of bright sunny skies and dark shadowy forest floors. Cloudy skies are like a huge soft box over the forest making even, consistent light. On the other hand, those streaks of light and the direction of light helps separate subjects from each other and create depth of field. Taking a page from my portrait experience, I chose to make separation using depth of field. My “nifty fifty” lens opens to a wide f 1.8 and makes amazing bokeh.

Even though I live near the coastal redwoods, the moss that grows on the trees in Oregon and Washington is like magic to me. This time of year it creates a green hue throughout the forest.

Opportunity is everywhere in the forest whether looking for a calm and peaceful morning or scouting for bald eagles and ospreys.

No bald eagles or ospreys were spotted this trip. I look forward to the next chance to visit Oxbow Regional Park (even though it is over 600 miles away.)

Speaking of monuments…

The last post about Rosie the Riveter started me thinking about other monuments in San Jose. The city, founded by Spain to feed the missions around San Francisco bay-Santa Clara, San Francisco de Assis, and San Jose (located in Fremont, CA), predates the founding of the United States. It has housed citizens from Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Of the three nations that have owned California the one with the shortest claim is Mexico. Newly independent Mexico took possession in 1824 and renamed it Alta California to designate it from lower or Baja California. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 saw the transfer of Alta California to the United States along with much of the Southwest. The land changed hands, but the residents just got a new flag and constitution. They were the same as when California was owned by Mexico. This brief time period is the background for the statue of Captain Thomas Fallon on the west entrance to downtown.

At a cost of $900,000, one would be excused for thinking some sort of community approval process would have been in place in 1990 before it came time to place the statue of American Captain Thomas Fallon holding a Bear flag and poised to hoist it up a flagpole, in the 1846. The placement of the statue was far from being a celebration of the city. To the Mexican American community, it represented oppression of Mexicans and the US annexation of California just two months after the declaration of war against Mexico, according to www.theclio.com/entry/41221

Captain Fallon had a varied life. The Bear Flag he is holding in the statue came from John C. Fremont whom he had joined on the third expedition into California. The Bear Flag revolt didn’t hold, and California joined the union at the close of the Mexican American War with the infamous Compromise of 1850. He spent some time in Santa Cruz where he married a Californio girl from Santa Cruz in 1849. He also spent some time in the gold fields, and later returned to San Jose where his famous Fallon house still sits across from San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. He was also the tenth mayor of San Jose. All in all, Fallon would seem to be a person for whom a statue might be appropriate.

Is it better to bury the statue in some warehouse next to the Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant or to leave it and tell his story and the story of its placement?

The city arrived at a compromise to put Thomas and his companion on the pedestal. According to the plaque affixed to the statue, three other public statues were placed around the city. One of those is a serpent at the entrance to Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Every summer for the San Jose Jazz Festival and every December for Christmas in the Park, tens of thousands of San Joseans and others are greeted by the serpent at the head of the park.

What do you think? Is it better to bury the statue in some warehouse next to the Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant or to leave it and tell his story and the story of its placement? Do you think local schools should use the statue to teach local history? If so, what grade? State history is taught around the country in 4th grade. Is this too soon? Should we wait for high school? While these questions sound like they are tailored for San Jose the statues in your city have stories to tell also. When should they be told and explored? 

Rosie, Monuments, and the “Right” Color

This past spring and summer there was a lot of public discussion about monuments. What should communities choose to honor from the past and whom should we choose to represent the ideals of our country? Should we honor one of the greatest presidents in our history in a sculpture that can be interpreted as both freeing slaves and keeping them in submission? What about a great general who decided, when offered the position as head of the US Army, to join an insurrection intended to end the US in his region instead? In spite of the current controversy, monuments play an important role in telling the story of our past and signaling what it means to be citizen.

San Jose has several monuments around town, as is befitting for a city of one million people. In St. James park there are memorials to President McKinley and Robert Kennedy. Only one of them is a statue of a person. In the History Park we have a newish statue of Rosie the Rivetter. The real Rosie doesn’t originate in San Jose but a little north along the San Francisco bay in the city of Richmond. She is based on the World War II poster of Rosie. The purpose of the poster was to encourage women to take jobs formerly held by the men who were fighting in Europe and Asia against the Axis powers. Women were called upon to support the war effort by actively participating in what President Roosevelt called the “arsenal of democracy” to defeat the enemies of the United States and democracy around the globe. “Rosies” were in every industrial town throughout America. Without their work making steel, assembling aircraft and ships, making artillery and artillery shells, and everything else needed in the war effort victory would have been elusive.

Rosie in the History Park is positioned in front of a gazebo that could be in Anywhere, USA in the war era. She stands behind the tracks for an electric trolly that took workers to industry and shipyards across American in a time when rationed gas made taking public transportation a no-brainer. (The History Park as working single pole trolly cars too!) Our Rosie tells multiple stories.

First, Rosie is a tribute to the women who worked in the war effort. Mimicking the famous war poster, she has her hair behind a red bandana, is wearing blue collar working overalls and heavy boots, and is flexing that left bicep to remind us she is doing “real” work, not of the office variety. Rosie is telling another story. This second story is the one of exclusion. Rosie is important because she was not allowed to do this work before the war. Neither were people of color. Rosie’s work is men’s work. Frail women need not apply, and all women were frail. Our Rosie is white, reminding us that before the war men of color were not welcome either. Even though she is silent, she tells us both stories as she flexes in front of the hedge and the innocent gazebo.

My picture of Rosie is in black and white, the film of her day. It seemed right keep her in her own 1940’s context. If you walked by with your phone (oops, I mean camera) your memory would no doubt be color. That’s okay. The real Rosie didn’t walk around in a real black and white world. Her red bandana was as bright in 1942 as it is on the statue.

Keyhole Arch

I like to find natural wonders that can only be photographed for limited times or days during the year. My quest started with Horsetail Falls in Yosemite. It took six years to get a photo and the journey was part of the joy of capturing the unique “fire fall” in February. (I have a post about it from about a year ago down below in the past postings.) This year the challenge was to photograph Keyhole Arch in Big Sur, California. Instead of six years, this was only year two. I’m experimenting with video so I’ve attached a short clip of the day.

Let me know if you like the video option. I’m experimenting and not committed to the format yet.

Industrial Art from the Golden Age of automobiles.

To a gear head a car show is about horsepower, posi-traction, and a host of other modifications that improve speed and performance for certain cars from specific eras. Things like flatheads, and slicks go with unique vocabulary like “Tri Fives”, posi, and a host of other specific “in the know” terms that both limit understanding from outsiders and are the ticket to the “in crowd”. In some ways, community car shows tend to have the same model and makes of specific cars, the crowd pleasers that guarantee a well-attended show. After all, who doesn’t like looking at large finned 57 Chevy Bel Airs, 55 and 56 T-Birds and 65 Mustangs? There is always a chance to see muscle cars from the late 60’s and early 70’s. What’s not to like?

Back in the day before aerodynamics was everything and designers presented to us smooth sleek bodies without exterior extras, cars were designed as pieces of practical art. I’m sure it is no mistake that the art deco style of the twenties helped influence automotive design. Elegant sweeping fenders, beautiful v-styled hoods, interior lamps and burl wood dash boards added flair to an otherwise pedestrian piece of transportation. A small but obvious part of the car’s art was the ornament at the front of the hood. Hood ornaments were both practical and artistic. In the early days Henry Ford’s Model T hood ornament doubled as a thermometer for the radiator. Mostly, hood ornaments are reflections of an era and part of the marketing and persona of the car.

The design team for this early Ford used their metal and chrome to give the proud owner a flying bird that not only ads an artistic flair, but it also adds to uniqueness of the car. Denoting its speed, Chrysler used the Clipper ship for a while. Here are a couple of variations

In the 1930’s and 40’s fast translated to this Ford Greyhound.  What about this hawk from the Chrysler? One of my favorites is the 1940’s version of a bullet train, very Streamline Moderne. The theme of the fifties was the jet age and Chevrolet used the jet and the line behind it to signify speed. This car is beyond fast it’s supersonic.

Industrial art was part of the car business from the beginning. I guess you could say it made cars more than the sum of their parts. Some of those parts were much more than mechanical and served an esoteric personal function. More than mere transportation, this industrial art speaks to another part of the automobile world I had missed all these years.

Do you have a favorite? Maybe something unique to a small brand that has ended up on the trash heap of the auto business. I’d love to hear your preference.