Documentary photography of rock art

$910 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 14 people in 8 months
Help me document the ancient rock-art of the American West!

The Project:

As I’ve traveled throughout the western U.S. on various photography projects I’ve begun documenting the Ancient Artworks I’ve found.  Ancient American Indian rock art, petroglyphs (made by chipping rock surfaces) and pictographs (made by painting or dying rock surfaces), are found throughout the American west.  These Native American artworks are between 500 & 4000 years old and some are even more ancient.  These are beautiful symbols and stories, permanently preserved in stone by ancient American Indian Shaman-Artists.  Imagine the native artist of 2000 years ago; he spent nearly every waking hour simply surviving; hunting, gathering, seeking water and shelter and yet he still made art that survived to modern times!

 I want to document as many petroglyphs as I can, modernize some of the ancient artists’ works, and share them with those who can’t see the sites for themselves.  Funding would be used for travel to the rock art sites and for post-production of the resultant photos.

Many of the rock art sites are protected within National Parks and Monuments –except now, because of political machinations, our parks and monuments themselves aren’t exactly protected—which leaves these delicate ancient rock art sites endangered again.  An example of a potentially at-risk site is this one, in the newly-shrunken Bears Ears National Monument:

Other sites, in non-protected areas, have been heavily vandalized by graffiti and even bullets! 

Here's a site vandalized by graffiti

Hopefully my new photos will lead to a greater awareness of the rock art sites and their continual need for preservation.  Availability of high-quality photographs, both documentary & artistic, obtainable by anyone interested should result in less vandalism and destruction of these sacred sites.

Documentary photos of Rock Art

While there are already many photographs of Rock Art much of the existing photography is of an academic nature aimed at archeologists, folklorists and researchers.  Much of the ‘fine-art’ photographs that include Petroglyphs and Pictographs are landscape photos in which the Rock Art isn’t the main subject.  My goal is to create elegant documentary photos and to create new impressionistic works using the ancient Rock Art as a starting-point.

The Goal:

After I find and photograph petroglyph sites I will process the photos three ways:

1.       Straight, unretouched documentary photos.  Primarily for academic/study use.

2.       Retouched, removing signs of decay and vandalism.  I will do my best to return the image to what it most likely looked like at the time the petroglyph was created.  For exhibition or publication.

3.       Using the retouched petroglyph as starting-point I will digitally post-process the image to create something new, based on the old.  This is my own artistic interpretation to build on what the ancient artist left.  A continuance of expression hundreds or thousands of years after the source material was created.

Artistic reinterpretation of Ancient Rock Art

Up to this point I’ve self-funded the project but it’s grown far beyond what I’d originally begun and I’d like you to help out.  Mainly, funding will be used to cover travel expenses: fuel and lodging.  Occasionally fees or other gratuities must be paid to access private lands or sacred Indian sites that are either unknown or forbidden to White Men.  From time to time Indian guides must be hired to visit some sites and they must be compensated.  Any extra funds will go to pay for printing, postage, presentation and exhibition/publication.

Ultimately I’d like to photograph at least thirty-six sites in seven states --or as much as funding will allow!

About me:

I’m a full-time professional photographer with over thirty-five years of experience.  I have a degree in photography.  I work with both film and digital and have produced photography and digital art for advertising and editorial clients worldwide.  I’ve produced works in a variety of styles including abstract-expressionism, surrealism, impressionism and photojournalism.  For this project documenting Ancient American Rock Art I will be working in a straightforward documentary style photographically and then continuing the Ancient Artists’ work digitally in an impressionistic style.

For 2018 I already have two, small, exhibitions of some of this work scheduled for galleries in Arizona.  Once the project is completed I will seek a large-scale venue for an extensive exhibition.  I also will produce boxed-set portfolios of the imagery.

And if I find there is enough interest, a book may be produced.  Stay tuned for that.

Please donate!

Help me document the past
and bring the ancient art into the future!

Thank You!!
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Petroglyph Project Update #8

I’m still working with the thousands of photos I shot in Utah back in June. There are so many known (and hidden) petroglyph sites in Utah I could spend months in the state photographing them. There are also some off-the-map sites in New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and California I’d like to photograph. All that’s needed is time and money and access…

…Access could become an issue soon here in my home state of Arizona. As of September 6 the ignorant and short-sighted Trump administration has ordered the BLM to begin auctioning off 4200 acres of public land in Northern Arizona for FRACKING! This could affect the Petrified Forest National Park. The petroglyphs found in the Petrified Forest are not specifically endangered –at the moment. Potential (and inevitable) chemical spills due to fracking could contaminate the Little Colorado River and nearby Silver Creek. If this happens access to the Petrified National Park could become limited.

The Trump administration has skipped environmental reviews and has not consulted with local Indian Tribes and has deferred all environmental analysis to their buddies in the drilling industry!

The Holbrook, Arizona basin has been specifically targeted for oil, gas and HELIUM extraction. Helium is in short-supply these days and high prices make it profitable to drill. It’s important to note that the fracking process injects acid into the groundwater. Arizona gets a lot of water from aquifers and this could potentially poison the water used by thousands of people.

One species of endangered fish and one species of endangered bird are also threatened by this.

This is only going to get worse so long as the anti-environment Republicans have a majority in the House and Senate. There is an election coming up. There is one party that is pro-environment and you should consider voting for them.

Next month I am going to photograph the Art Rock Ranch Petroglyphs near Winslow, AZ. These are not on public land but rather, private property, and are in excellent condition. This will be a single day shoot and I’m going with a group of people from Yavapai College. Hopefully I’ll learn more in a group than when traveling alone. Also in October I am going to re-visit Grapevine Canyon in Nevada. This is a heavily-vandalized site and I will be making ‘forensic’ type photos to document the damage. I’ll also be looking for undamaged petroglyphs that I didn’t find the last time I was there.

Look for another report after photography at Art Rock Ranch and Grapevine Canyon.

Finally a shameless plea for funding. If there’s anyone you know who might support this project please share my GoFundMe page with them! I need your help to stay ahead of deregulation that could endanger all these sites!

Thank you for your support!!!!!!
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I’ve just returned from a six-day, 1900 mile journey through Utah and a portion of Colorado which generated almost 5000 new photos. I took a route diagonally across Utah beginning in the Southwestern corner of the state in St. George and ending in Vernal, in the Northeastern corner of the state. My return trip took me through a section of Western Colorado.

My list included thirty sites and I managed to visit twenty-three of them.
These sites were photographed:
Monday June 11
St. George Petroglyph Park
Parowan Gap
Capitol Reef
Tuesday June 12
Temple Mountain
Buckhorn Wash
Moore Cut-off road
Wednesday June 13
Nine Mile Canyon (6 sites)
Dry Fork
Thursday June 14
Sun Dagger site (Colorado)
Cow Canyon (Colorado)
Kokopelli site (Colorado)
Waving Hands site (Colorado)
Canyonlands National Park (Moab)
Kane Creek (Moab)
Golf Course (Moab)
Friday June 15
Bluff site #1
Bluff site #2
Sand Island

I covered a lot of ground in a short time and documented a LOT of petroglyphs and pictographs.

Of the sites I did not visit there were two where the hike was just too long and strenuous for me at my ‘advanced’ age. A few sites were inaccessible due to bad roads or no roads. The rest were missed because of bad maps. I suspect that some of the directions I had were purposely misleading or inaccurate specifically to keep people away from the sites. Also, many of the directions were ten or more years old and road names and numbers had changed or new roads were made during the years rendering the old directions inaccurate. Strangely, on average, most maps were off by two tenths of a mile. That doesn’t sound like much until you’re hiking, and you find you’re a quarter mile from where you thought you were. Also, .2 miles inaccuracy, after five miles puts you a full mile off-course which means you’re not going to find the petroglyph. Again, I suspect some directions may be purposely misleading.

Because of Trump administration deregulation I kept an eye out for new mining activity and fossil fuel extraction. I noticed the following:
Nine Mile Canyon is threatened by new natural gas exploration. Apparently, and for quite some time, there has been a détente between the natural gas industry and environmentalists. That seems to be holding as I saw no new natural gas extraction activity there.
Rangely, Colorado is the home of extensive natural gas fields. Because of so many new and unnamed roads to natural gas rigs there were a few sites in the area I could not find. This is mainly the result of the combination of old maps and new roads, however if there ever is competition between natural gas production and environmentalism in the future, the gas-men will no doubt win.
Bears Ears National Monument has been reduced by about 85%. When I passed the road to Newspaper Rock I saw no evidence of new uranium mining. So far this is good. Hopefully local Indian Tribe lawsuits will delay new mining/extraction activity until more reasonable laws are passed.

As I process the new photos I will share them on Facebook.

I had to take this trip now to avoid the summer rainy (monsoon) season. Any rain would have rendered many of the dirt roads I traveled (and there were a lot) impassible. Ironically, it rained the day after I got home ---good timing!

The project is now officially over budget and I’ve spent more than has been donated. That’s okay, I’ve self-funded the majority of my photographic projects but I could use a little help. This is an important project and I can bring it to fruition with just a few more donations.

If you would, please share this with your friends:
Help me cast a wider net. With just a little more, I can do a lot more.

Watch Facebook for new photos soon!
Thank you for your support!

Dale O’Dell
June 18, 2018
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The photo is from Grapevine Canyon in Nevada. I had been misinformed about this place, it's easier to get to than I'd thought, so I went there Tuesday. This is the first of many photos I’ll be sharing.

In related news:
Now the historic Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico is endangered!


When I began this campaign in January I thought that perhaps I’d overstated the potential peril these sites may face because of unrestrained deregulation. I was wrong, so wrong in fact that I may have understated endangerment.

1. One year ago Bear’s Ears National Monument was threatened with shrinkage of its boundaries. Today the battle has been lost and Bear’s Ears is now only 15% of its original size. Uranium miners are moving in and Newspaper Rock could be threatened or access to it denied by Mining Companies.

2. Recently Nine Mile Canyon has come under attack from the Natural Gas drilling industry. More than likely the Republican majority ruling party of the U.S. government will cease to preserve sites in Nine Mile Canyon and instead increase the areas available for Natural Gas exploration.

3. (See link above) Now, one of the most impressive and important archeological sites in all of North America, Chaco Canyon, is now endangered. Preservation has been tossed aside in favor of more Natural Gas drilling we don’t need.

Today the ONLY thing that endangers ancient art and archeological sites in the U.S. is US, in the form of our government. The three sites listed above are major petroglyph sites and they’re now endangered. Imagine how easy it will be for the anti-environment faction of government to imperil less well-known minor sites!

Since the U.S. is such a major producer of fossil fuels (natural gas, oil & coal) we don’t need to explore/extract gas and oil from beautiful, sensitive and sacred sites. There is no current shortage or emergency that necessitates drilling in areas of historic archeological importance. Nor is America so mineral-poor that we need to mine in national parks and monuments. So why is this happening?

Politics. Conservative politics. In my view it’s the politics of ‘screw-you.’

Drilling or mining for resources in these areas is unnecessary. It does not add to America’s energy independence but it does subtract from our collective cultural history. When I began this project documentation did not seem urgent. But now the United States may well have to adopt a program like the Institute for Digital Archaeology and UNESCO has done to document and create a digital record of historical sites and artifacts destroyed by ISIL in Syria. Of course this won’t be a heavily-financed project, it’ll be done by people like me. And I still need help from folks like YOU.

Please share this with anyone who may be interested:
Grapevine Canyon, NV 5/2/18
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On Friday I returned from photographing petroglyphs in Saguaro National Park in Tucson & the Three Rivers Petroglyph site near Tularosa, New Mexico. It was a successful shoot!

I found & photographed the ‘spiral’ petroglyph at Signal Hill in the Saguaro National Park Western Section. There are only a handful of petroglyphs on site so I photographed them all.

The next location I documented was the Three Rivers Petroglyph Preserve near Tularosa (north of Alamogordo) New Mexico. I’d last visited the site about thirty years ago and it’s been improved since then. There is a small (unmanned when I was there) visitor’s center, restrooms with running water and a few campsites. I spent the night in the campground and photographed during the day, at sunset and again at sunrise.

Three Rivers is a very nice site, it’s far enough off the beaten path so it’s not been attacked by vandals nor is there any oil, gas or mining extraction going on nearby. I believe this site is safe from potential deregulation-destruction.

The petroglyphs are located on a hill about a half mile from the campground. It’s a short, easy hike. There are estimated to be as many as 20,000 individual petroglyphs on site, about 5000 petroglyphs have been cataloged. These petroglyphs were created by the Jornada Mogollon people (who have no contemporary ancestors) who occupied the area between 5000 BC & 1400 AD. The Three Rivers petroglyphs are believed to be from their later period, approximately 600 years ago.

I’ll be processing the new imagery for the next few weeks, working between other assignments.

This shoot was exactly on-budget and I’m grateful for your donation. To date $710.00 has been raised & the recent photo-shoot expenses were a little over half of that. For the next shoot ---which will be much more extensive I need to raise at least an additional $700. That’s really not a lot. Please share https://www.gofundme.com/documentary-photography-of-rock-art so I can photograph approximately 30 sites in Utah later this summer.

And my next exhibition of Southwestern Pop Impressionism (including digitally-enhanced petroglyphs) opens in only TWO WEEKS!

Thank you all for your support, your generosity makes this possible.

Dale O’Dell
April 16, 2018
Signal Hill Spiral
Three Rivers
An unusual Fish petroglyph, Three Rivers
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