Stones and Trees



At elevations from 200 to 1200 feet, the Spenceville Wildlife Area in Yuba and Nevada County, California features rolling hills of blue oak and gray pine characteristic of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Once part of Camp Beale, a massive World War II era training base, the area features numerous creeks, water falls, and from the western extension, stunning views the Central Valley, the Coast Range and the Sutter Buttes. Geologically, the Spenceville Wildlife Area is part of the Smartsville Complex formed on the western edge of the North American continent about 160 million years old.[1] The formation of the Smartsville Complex, named after the historic gold mining town of Smartsville, remains an area of active geological research.[2] Most intriguing, geologists suggest an eastern moving island archipelago originating some 600 miles out into the Pacific Ocean rafted into the North American plate, and forced into the North American Plate, the island archipelago left a long belt of ocean crust on the North American continental slope which would become the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. [3]



Scattered throughout rolling hills of the Sierra Foothills and found in abundance in the rolling oak woodlands of the Spenceville Wildlife Area are eroded remnants of metamorphosed volcanic rocks. Reminiscent of the megaliths found in Britain and northern France, as “the product of undersea volcanoes of 140 million years ago, now upended and changed by mountain-building forces”[4] the largest schists rise out of the thin soil 20 feet into the air. Given their thin and upright shapes, miners referred to these outcroppings of metamorphosed volcanic rock as tombstones.[5] William Phipps Blake, a geologist who surveyed Gold Rush era mining operations in the Mother Lode offers one of the first written accounts the unique rock formations and of the characteristic landscape of the Sierra Foothills:

“On crossing the river [Stanislaus], and rising on the opposite bank, abundance of round, weather-worn masses of basaltic rock were found; they are probably from a dyke or overflow. The old metamorphic or Azoic slates crop out a sort distance beyond. They are talcose and chloritic, and are nearly vertical; standing out in high slabs, arranged in lines like gravestones. They are called grave-stone slates by the miners; and in fact, are the tombstones of the past ages. The road extends nearly at right angles to the trend of these slates, and I traversed a vast thickness. The country is open and undulating, and there are but few trees.”[6]



Beginning in the spring of 2013, I began to photograph grave-stone schists within the Spenceville Wildlife Area, creating large multi-image panoramas with a Panasonic Lumix G-3 micro-thirds camera converted to capture the infra-red spectrum. The Panasonic Lumix G-3 was equipped with a Lens-Baby Tilt-shift adapter mounted to a 20mm Nikon full frame lens. I focused my explorations along the ridge lines atop the first sets of rolling hills overlooking the Central Valley. Here along the ridge lines and west facing slopes, I found unobstructed afternoon sun and the largest clusters of grave-stone schists.  I focused on photographing during the spring months from March through early May, before the onset of the hot summer. In early spring the grasses are vibrant green and the faces of gravestone schists are covered in soft mosses and slouches of lichen, which shift in infra-red capture to the gold tones characteristic of late summer. In this undisturbed pasture land, I found stones and trees in an abundance of sizes and shapes, and occupying this unique landscape in solitude.



The Lensbaby Tilt-shift adapter encouraged experiments with differential focus and as a means to suggest how our eyes scan a landscape. Equally, my experiments with infra-red capture are suggestive of the search into the regions unique geological past, and highlighting the continuing fascination with the “tombstones of the past ages” first noted by William Phipps Blake in his geological reconnaissance into the Sierra Foothills in 1853.

David Arnold, May 2015



[1] Martin Menzies, Douglas Blanchard and Costas Xenophontos, Genesis of the Smartsville Arc-Ophiolite, Sierra Nevada Foothills, California, American Journal of Science, Vol. 280-A, P. 329-344.
[2] Unger presents a good summary of the geological theories concerning the formation of the Smartsville Complex and the Sierra Batholigh: Tanya S. Unger, Mesozoic Plutonism in the central Sierra Nevada Batholith: A review of works on mineralogy and isotopes in relation to models for batholith formation, University of Colorado.
[3]John McPhee, Assembling California, p. 85-98. McPhee presents an engaging retelling of tectonic plate research by Edridge M. Moores.
[4] Mary Hill, The Geology of the Sierra Nevada, p. 170.
[5] The gold, copper and other mineral deposits in Mother Lode region formed as a result the “Cretaceous emplacement of the Sierra Nevada batholith”[2] with erosion producing placer gold deposits in the rivers and streams. Bruce Pauly, Geologic History of the South Yuba River State Park, South Yuba State Park Natural History Guide, University of Californian, Davis.
[6]  William Phipps Blake, Report of a geological reconnaissance in California: made in connection with the expedition to survey routes in California, to connect with the surveys of routes for a railroad from the Mississippi river to the Pacific Ocean, under the command of Lieut. R.S. Williamson, Corps Top. Eng’rs, in 1853United States. Army. Corps of Topographical Engineers, 1858 (p. 254).

The Proposals Series


The term visual poetry refers to experiments undertaken with the semantic character of words, and as an experimental genre, visual poetry blends multiple mediums. Visual poetry seeks to be seen as a painting or photograph, and read for the lyric associations of poetry. Often reducing language to typographical forms, visual poetry experiments with situating language into new and varied spaces. With a long history stretching back to Greek and Roman examples, at its core, visual poetry celebrates the visual forms of language.


  • Three Black Bars, Highway 41, Kettleman City, Callifornia
    Black Bars, Highway 41, Kettleman City, California, silver gelatin print with dry transfer lettering, 1979.


In the late 1970’s, I sought ways to merge my fascinations with visual poetry and my growing interest in photography. Billboard advertising dominates the experience of driving, and in my frequent travels, I became intrigued with blank billboards. With their previous advertising tenant scraped away or whited-out, these huge panels called out to their next advertising customer and to me. After seeing miles of advertising clutter, these blank billboards provided a tremendous visual relief. Shortly after beginning to photograph these bland billboards, I began to see these spaces as frameworks for visual poems. As joyful responses to the visual clutter of the highway, Prosposals were created with the hope that someday my visual poems might be displayed on massive billboards.


Starting first as a silver gelatin print, the blank spaces of the Proposals prints were treated with dry transfer lettering to create the final image. Selections from Proposals first appeared in Kaldron, A Journal of Visual Poetry and Language, Number 12, 1980. Selections from Proposals will appear in Renegade, A Collection of International Visual Poetry & Language Arts, ed. Andrew Topel, San Diego University Press, forthcoming 2015.


David Arnold, May 2015


Visual Poetry Resources:

Alan Prohm, Visual Poetry, Some Palette Analysis for the Renegade Anthology.

Alan Prohm, Visual Poetics: Meaning Space from Mallarmé to Metalheart, Stanford, Comparative Literature, 2004.

Visual Poetry in the Avant Writing Collection, edited with an introduction by John M. Bennett.

Kaldron Online, edited by Karl Kempton, Karl Young, and Harry Polkinhorn

The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry.

Willard Bohn, Modern Visual Poetry, University of Delaware Press

Andrew Topel, Renegade, an online journal of international visual poetry


Borrowed Sources

Thoughts on Walter Benjamin, Appropriation, Technology and Landscape

Walter Benjamin

Published in 1936, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is the first commentary on the ways in which technology changes the conditions of art. Benjamin’s tightly written essay continues to generate debate and has spawn thousands of critical interpretations. In he Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin outlines his concept of the aura of a work of art. The aura for Benjamin is a perceptual relationship with a work of art which allows the viewer to experience the unique history of a given work of art, and by extension, the viewer’s place in tradition. Benjamin’s associates the aura with looking, “as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch, which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch.”[1] For Benjamin, the aura is situated in a specific object, time or place, as well as present within the viewer in the contemplation of the work.

Benjamin believed that with the separation of art from ritual, first experienced in the Renaissance, the function of art changed—art becomes a product designed for exhibition. For Benjamin, the Renaissance period substituted a cult of beauty for a lost ritual tradition of art where a “secular cult of beauty…clearly showed that ritualistic basis in its decline and the first deep crisis which befell it.”[2] The cult of beauty mentioned by Benjamin is prominently on display in contemporary art museums and can be seen in the elaborate viewing experience presented at large exhibitions, aided by dramatic lighting we experience a simulation of the ritual associated with the previous religious tradition. Benjamin also discusses how the reproduction of works of art in posters, magazines and books changes how we experience art and how technology supports our desire “to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.” [3]

  • Borrowed Source: Sailboat Detail, Joseph Mallord William Turner, English, 1775-1851), Van Tromp, Going About to Please His Masters, 1839, Getty Museum.
    Sailboat Detail, Joseph Mallord William Turner, English, 1775-1851), Van Tromp, Going About to Please His Masters, 1839, Getty Museum.

Appropriation and Technology

Benjamin argues that the accelerated mode of mechanical reproduction changes the way that art is experienced. Benjamin believes that mechanical reproduction “emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”[4] An authentic work of art for Benjamin is dependent on its function in ritual, housed in a specific location which forms a relationship characterized by distance and provides the context for generating meaning. The withering of aura through reproduction diminishes the quasi-religious or cult status of art, which opens the door to the new forms and uses of art. Benjamin discusses in Work of Art, a group of early twentieth century artists, the Berlin Dadaists, who intentionally performed “a relentless destruction of the aura of their creations.”[5] Here Benjamin refers to the art practice known as appropriation which means to take over another work of art. The Berlin Dadaists took reproductions from newspapers and magazines and used them as source material for their own works. The Berlin Dadaists along with Marcel Duchamp were the first to reintroduce the longstanding practice of appropriation into modern art.

After initially restricting photography in galleries, museums are now encouraging photography and smart phones use to aid the viewer’s experience with art. No clear guidelines exist across museums as restrictions on the use of cameras and mobile devices within galleries remains unevenly applied, still the trend is for the transformational aspects of technology to continue to reshape the museum experience. The use of technology to bring the experience of viewing art closer is in full evidence, including gallery tours guided by smart phones. In galleries where photography is permitted, visitors appear to photograph as much as they look at painting, and viewer’s appropriations support Benjamin’s prophesy, “the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.” [6] Whether intentional, museums encourage the appropriation of works of art via smart phone photography and sharing across social media. What was once a revolutionary art practice in the hands of the Berlin Dadaists and post modern artists is now common place.



Several recent studies have investigated the viewing patterns of visitors at museums and have concluded that visitors spend between 2 and 32 seconds viewing paintings and reading wall text. A Metropolitan Museum of Art study found that the median time viewers spend with a work of art is 17 seconds.[7] Studies conducted at the Louvre found that visitors spent only 15 seconds viewing Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, the most popular painting in the history of the planet.[8] As Benjamin’s example of the aura suggests, time spent viewing any subject does not fully quantify our experience of viewing, as even brief periods of time spent looking may led to lasting impressions. Nevertheless, the small amount of time spent viewing exhibitions of works of art has led museums to support further research into the viewing patterns of visitors, including using eye tracking equipment and software to provide empirical evidence to better understand their how visitor experience art on display.[9]  Possible questions for future studies could include does smart phone technology draw people closer to the works of art? And does the use of smartphones and social media sharing encourage a closer viewing of works of art? Unanswered are the questions of why so little time is spent with works of art and if we are witnessing aspects of withering of the aura which Benjamin detailed nearly 75 years ago.

The series, Borrowed Sources employs the art practice of appropriation to comment on the process of looking and viewing art within a museum context. While walking through galleries, painting details catch our eyes and merge with other works on display—small details jump to attention, while others fall away. Using a lens designed to shift the focal point to one small area of the image and rendering the majority of the surface space out of focus, Borrowed Sources references how the eye scans works of art while strolling through museum galleries.[11]  Borrowed Sources considers the process of interpreting works of art through the processes of looking and photographing them. Sixteenth through nineteenth century landscape paintings created prior to the introduction of mass photography were selected for their association with the appropriation of visual space propelled by the invention of linear perspective, a function taken up by photography in the nineteenth century.




Landscape is a term bound to the notion of space. The English term landscape originated in the German landschaft, where it first appeared. The German term referred to an area of “shaped land, a cluster of temporary dwellings and more permanent houses, the antithesis of the wilderness surrounding it”[10]. The term, at this time, was without any particular aesthetic or artistic or visual connotation.[12] The Dutch in the 16th century used the term landshap to refer to a tract of land. With the invention of linear perspective, landscape became a subject suitable for paintings.  By the end of sixteenth century after Dutch painters began to produce paintings featuring land, landship was used to refer to a painting of a place, as a “perceived as a scope or expanse.”[13] The word was introduced into English to refer to a painting and over time, the English term would be used by geographers, in a neutral and scientific sense, and by artists to refer to a particular kind of painting. Landscape provided new ways of evaluating the tracts of land as well as a ways of perceiving the world. Within these connotations, landscape took on aesthetic and emotional content.[14] Today the term is largely connected with the terms place and view, and often refers to scenery. Landscape now contains its early associations with tracts of land, yet refers as well to representation of particular tracts of land favored by artists in their paintings and later photographers in their photographs. The term landscape in the visual arts is connected broadly to the term nature, and today, landscape is associated with beautiful scenery or with picturesque largely rural scenes.



Landscape painting grew from the enlargement of scientific knowledge and is linked directly to the Renaissance invention of perspective drawing. Surveying, mapping and the exploration and colonization of new lands, each expanding at this same time, are directly linked to the concept of landscape. Denis Cosgrove defines landscape as “the external world mediated through human subjective experience.”[15] Landscape in the broadest sense became a new way of seeing and structuring the world. At the center of this new visual space was the individual. Linear perspective became the visual representation of a rationalist conception of the world. Surveying, mapping, and new mathematical formulations of space were used to measure individual estates, and later the entire world. Linear perspective became the guarantor of visual realism in the landscape painting, and the tool by which the artist represents and appropriates the external world.



Perspective painting was crucial to the development of landscape painting and a key factor in the powering the desire for photography.[16] Linear perspective, and in the same way that photography has come to dominate our visual world, assumed authority and control of space. Linear perspective provided the certainty of the reproduction of nature into art, underlining the power and authority of the work of art and the creativity and authority of the individual artist.[17] This too, is a role photography was happy to assume. As Susan Sontag states, “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge — and, therefore, like power.” [18]Landscape painters would come to provide breathtaking illusions of depth and controlled entry points into the picture plane. Immediately after the invention of photography, these examples would inform the new medium of photography. Early photographers, many who first trained as painters, employed the same conventions of composition to their photographic appropriations of the landscape, and in landscapes of great beauty, in the forests of Europe and in Yosemite Valley, photographers worked side by side with the landscape painters to depict the external world. With linear perspective, as Cosgrove suggests, “Realist representation of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface through linear perspective directs the external world towards the individual located outside that space. It gives the eye absolute mastery over space.”[19] By the 17th century, landscape paintings were often commissioned by wealth landowners, and depicted a visual space doubly owned through possession of realist painting of his land. The realistic landscape painting became a prized and expensive object,  and like the landscape itself, a property,  which affirmed the control and appropriation of the external world.

By extension, linear perspective allows the viewer to appropriate the visual space of the painting, a role that in the nineteenth century, the new medium of photography assumed. Borrowed Sources investigates how the eye, aided by linear perspective, travels through painted landscapes and by extension the external world. Borrowed Sources concerns the appropriation of visual space predefined by landscape painters working prior to the twentieth century. By treating landscape paintings as landscapes from the external world, Borrowed Sources traces the source of our concept of landscape in common details found paintings, as well as searches for ideas expressed by Walter Benjamin in The Works of Art. In particular, Borrowed Sources tests Benjamin’s association of the aura of work of art with looking and examines the desire to use technology to close the distance and get closer to the work of art through its reproduction.  Borrows Sources looks to those painted details, those mountain ranges, those horizons, those trees and twigs and branches, which carries the eye through painted landscapes and engages the viewer in a dialogue with the past.


David Arnold, July 2014.


[1] Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, II.
[2] Ibid, IV.
[3] Ibid, III.
[4 Ibid, XIV.
[5] Ibid, IV.
[6] Ibid, III.
[7] Jeffrey K. Smith and Lisa F. Smith, Spending Time on Art, Empirical Studies of the Arts, Volume 19, No. 2, 2001.
[8] Amelia Gentleman, “Smile Please,” The Guardian, 10.18.2004.
[9] Museum and the Web 2013, Capturing Visitors’ Gazes: Three Eye Tracking Studies in Museums, 4.2013.
[10] Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local, p. 8.
[11] Technical details: All images were captured using a Sony A-900 full frame digital camera equipped with a LensBaby Composer and a Sweet 35 Optic set at F2.8. The ISO setting varied  between 1500 and 6400 ISO. All images were edited with Adobe Lightroom 5.0 and Adobe Photoshop 2014.
[12] Denis Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1985), p. 56.
[13] Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local, p. 8.
[14] Christopher Ely, This Meager Nature, p. 8-9.
[15] Quoted in Lucy Lippard, The Lure of the Local, p 7-8
[16] Denis Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1985), p. 48
[17] Peter Galassi, Before Photography, p. 11-31.
[18] Susan Sontag, On Photography, p. 4.
[19] Denis Cosgrove, “Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1985), p. 52.

Churches of Stone

Churches of Stone highlights the architectural features of six stone churches in Baja California Sur, Mexico. The fortress-like profiles, the small windows, the clustered columns, and curved doorways carved into stone highlight the remarkable fact of the stone churches long existence. Designed to dazzle the newly converted, the stone churches of Baja California Sur transmit a spiritual zeal which transforms largely isolated and severe locations. The photographs focus on the vertical surfaces, which provide spaces for the play of light and shadows, and on the arched doorways, the windows, and the soaring bell towers which use a blend of architectural styles to delight the eye.  Also included are photographs of more humble outlying religious sites, located in proximity to original mission sites.

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó

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In 1697, Jesuit missionaries, guarded by a small detachment of Spanish soldiers, established the first permanent mission on the Baja Peninsula at Loreto. The Jesuits and followed later by two other Catholic religious orders, the Franciscan and the Dominicans, built a contiguous chain of missions, 50 in all, which stretched the length of the New Spain’s Baja Peninsula to the rolling hills just beyond San Francisco Bay in Northern California. While the missions in present day California are preserved and restored and heavily visited, the missions of Baja Norte and Baja Sur California, except in the Lower Peninsula, have not fared as well. Many of the Franciscan and Dominican missions were built of adobe, and these structures, after abandonment, have largely fallen back into the earth from which they were formed. Begun by the Jesuits in the 18th century, and completed by the Dominicans, eight intact stone churches remain in Baja California Sur. Built of native stone, these austere architectural treasures have survived over 300 years in an extreme environment. The stone churches blend multiple architectural styles present across New Spain, and include Gothic, Neo-Gothic, Moorish and Baroque features. Deeply influenced by the high Baroque styles popular in the 17th and 18th century, the stone churches of Baja Sur express the intense spiritual energy of the Jesuit priests and the triumphant power of the Spanish conquest. [1]

Misión San Luis Gonzaga Chiriyaqui

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The Jesuit colonization of Baja was organized on a theological foundation. With degrees in philosophy and the sciences, the Jesuits commanded the soldiers who accompanied them as well as the tightly controlled civilian populations. Attuned to the architectural styles and sensibilities of their time, these learned men created an unprecedented colonial experiment which resulted, for a short time, in the colonization of the central and southern parts of the Baja peninsula. All told, the Jesuits founded 21 missions in Baja’s inestimably beautiful yet inhospitable landscape. After centuries of royal favoritism and political overstepping, the Jesuits were expelled by royal decree from Baja and the New World in 1767. Replaced first by the Franciscans and later by the Dominicans, these priests carried on the operation of the ex-Jesuit missions and went on to found 9 new missions on the Baja Peninsula and 21 more in present day California.[2]

Misión San José de Comondú, Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, 

Misión San Ignacio Kadakaamán, Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé

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Missions were entire communities which encompassed large complexes of buildings and shops, corrals, nearby fields, pastures and outlying settlements and chapels. The mission churches were the center of these communities. Designed to concentrate scattered and nomadic populations of indigenous peoples, the Spanish mission system was one part of an aggressive colonization program designed to bring new converts into the church and to counter the losses of the Reformation. Prior to the arrival of the Jesuits, the indigenous peoples of Baja were divided into 5 language groups: the Guaycura near Loreto, the Huchiti near La Paz, the Pericu of the Cape region, the Cochimi in the central peninsula, and the Yuma in the north. Occupying Baja California for over 7,000 years prior to the arrival of the Jesuits, Baja’s native peoples lived in small bands of 50-75 by hunting, fishing and collecting edible plants. Rough estimates set their total population at approximately 50,000 people across the entire peninsula at the beginning of the colonial period. [3]Early visitors to Baja spoke of the indigenous peoples leading a primitive, nomadic existence, following scarce freshwater sources and native plant harvests. [4] The Jesuits adopted a policy of accommodating their new subjects by learning native languages and translating sermons and prayers into native languages.[5]

The Jesuit polices were initially successful in bringing new converts into the mission system and the population of the missions expanded rapidly. However, the Jesuit’s policies and success in concentrating the scattered bands into central locations would doom their colonial experiment. With no resistance to European diseases, including small pox, measles and syphilis, the native people were decimated to near extinction levels, dropping to less than 6,000 in 1800. At the beginning of the 20th century, fewer than 50 individuals with distinctive indigenous traits survived in a single band in the mountains of the northern peninsula. [6] [7] The Baja and California missions were closed after Mexican independence from Spain in the early 19th century. The mission lands and buildings were secularized. The stone churches built by native peoples for native peoples were abandoned.

Outlier Churches and Sites

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Created during trips to central Baja in 2007 and 2014, all photographs in the series Churches of Stone were created using Minolta 35mm film cameras: a Minolta X-700 equipped with a 21mm MC Rokkor lens and a Minolta Maxxum 7 equipped with a 24-70mm Minolta lens. Using Ilford HP-5 black and white film, the photographs were developed using David Wood’s DR-5 process, [8] a unique reversal process which converts black and white film negatives into film positives. The film was slightly toned in processing to accentuate the surface details and earth tones. After developing, the film was scanned using a Nikon 9000 film scanner. Final image processing was completed using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC.

David Arnold, July 2014.

 Works Cited

[1] David Burckhalter, Baja California Missions, In the Footsteps of the Padres (University of Arizona Press, 2013.

[2] Brian A. Aviles and Robert L. Hoover, Two California, Three Religious Orders and Fifty Missions: A Comparison of the Missionary Systems of Baja and Alta California, Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3, Summer, 1997.

[3] Peter Gerhard, The North Frontier of New Spain (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982), 295.

[4] Michael Mathes, Problems of Ethnohistorical Research in Baja California, Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp 44-48 (1981); Brian A. Aviles and Robert L. Hoover, Two California, Three Religious Orders and Fifty Missions: A Comparison of the Missionary Systems of Baja and Alta California, Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3, Summer, 1997.

[5] Mauricio J. Mixco, Cochimi and Proto-Yuman: Lexical and Syntactic Evidence for a New Language Family in Lower California, Anthropological Papers No 010, 1987 (James M. Crawford review).

[6] Peter Gerhard, The North Frontier of New Spain (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982), 295.

[7] Peveril Meigs, The Kiliwa Indians of Lower California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939);Michael Mathes, Problems of Ethnohistorical Research in Baja California, Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp 44-48 (1981); Brian A. Aviles and Robert L. Hoover, Two California, Three Religious Orders and Fifty Missions: A Comparison of the Missionary Systems of Baja and Alta California, Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 3, Summer, 1997.

[8] David Wood, DR5 Process.





At Chimney Beach: Using a Freezer Bag as a Waterproof Housing


  At Chimney Beach (with the Takashi EZ F521 Digital Camera in a freezer bag).

Chimney Beach, a narrow band of sand on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, is accessed by a trail from Nevada Highway 28. The beach is managed by the Nevada State Parks Department and is named for the lone chimney nestled at the top of a small cove, the only structure of any kind found in the area. Dense outcrops of smooth granite boulders line the shore and spread like tiny islands along the narrow underwater shelf on lakeshore. The views from the beach looking to the southwest are spectacular and when the winds come up in the afternoons, small waves break against the granite boulders and on the sand strip, generating an ocean-like experience.

Margaret Arnold, At Chimney Beach, Looking West

The intense natural beauty of Chimney Beach has inspired many photographic field trips. On a recent trip, I experimented with Takashi Digital FX 521. Since being released in 2009, the small retro-styled digital rangefinder is marketed under several names: the Yashica Digital FX 521, the Takashi Digital FX 521, Lomo JOCO VX5 Digital Camera. Referred to as “Digital Holgas”, “Digital Dianas”, or “Digital Lomos”, the little camera shares little in design these earlier film cameras, however, the camera’s lack of creative controls and small plastic lens are suggestive of popular film-based toy cameras.

Mar­garet Arnold, the palm-sized Takashi EZ F521 and with freezer bag waterproof housing.

The Takashi EZ F521 sells for about $99 from Amazon and ebay. The palm-sized camera makes it an easy second or third travel camera. Most promising about the Takashi EZ F521 is the pleasing and smooth film like quality of the noise. Other features include two fixed focus settings, landscape and “macro”; an optical viewfinder; a 5mp 1/2.5″ CMOS sensor with interpolation up to 12mp, with interpolated images generate the most pleasing noise; a 3 inch LCD screen; and 640—480 pixel video capture.

 Margaret Arnold, At Chimney Beach: the Takashi EZ F521 inserted into a freezer bad

As an experimental camera the Takashi EZ F521 performs remarkably well. Light weight and inexpensive, the camera engenders risk taking. Illustrating an experimental approach with camera vantage point, I took the Takashi EZ F521 with me on a recent trip to Chimney Beach. I placed the camera in a freezer bag and used the camera at the water line and submerged the camera just below the surface. I experimented with capturing small breaking waves and smooth granite boulders lining the shore of Chimney Beach from water level. The view through the plastic freezer bag coupled with the plastic lens of the Takashi EZ F521 generated a unique otherworldly blur, suggestive of watery and floating world.

David Arnold, At Chimney Beach with the Takashi EZ F521 inserted into a freezer bad

©David Arnold, 2013

On Bokeh—the Red Tree


Experimenting with Bokeh, The Red Tree Series
Using the Minolta F/1.2 MC Rokkor-X 58 mm Lens


Early references to the Chinese Pistache tree[1] appear in Ernest Henry Wilson’s A Naturalist in Western China. Wilson notes that the hard wood of Chinese Pistache forms “a natural “fork” at one end and is in general use for the balance rudder on all the larger boats.” [2]The tree is drought and insect resistant and can be grown in hot dry climates in poor soils. Easily maintained, the Chinese Pistache has become a popular choice for plantings along roadways, parking lots and as a shade tree. Young trees are scraggly and asymmetrical; mature Chinese Pistache trees reach 40-50 feet, and grow into a uniform and dense oval shape. With dark green foliage the long narrow oval shaped deciduous leaves of the Chinese Pistache become a riot of red, orange, coral, crimson, purple, pink, yellow in the fall.[3]


The Red Tree Series, 2010-present.


Several years ago, I noticed a lone Chinese Pistache tree set amid the Blue Oak savanna of the Spenceville Wildlife Area. From a nearby road, the lone Chinese Pistache in full fall display was the most prominent visible evidence of an abandoned ranch site set in a meadow below the low ridgeline. In 1942, the United States War Department purchased ranches in Yuba and Nevada Counties in the Northern California Foothills and joined the properties into Camp Beale, a training ground for the 13th Armored Division.[4] Following the war, the property near the Chinese Pistache was added to the Spenceville Wildlife Refuge. The tree is spectacular from middle October into December, and commands the meadow at the edge of the abandoned ranch site. The variegated color of the lone Chinese Pistache tree with the long drooping lower branches provides a continuing subject for experimental photography.


In the Red Tree series, I selected a vintage Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58mm lens to create a series of photographs of Chinese Pistache tree, following the changing foliage through the fall season. I selected the Minolta Rokkor 58mm lens for the opportunity provided by the lens to highlight the lanceolate shaped leaves of the Chinese Pistache tree, and render the changing colors of the canopy and branches in a soft glow. Featuring F/1.2 aperture, the manual focus lens is one of the fastest lenses produced for still photography. The highly regarded lens was manufactured in the 1960’s, and is now prized for the smooth bokeh produced even at the largest apertures.

Three views of the vintage Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 lens with Chinese Pistache leaves in the background. Figure #3 shows the Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 lens with an optical adapter for mounting on Sony A mount DSLRs. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)


The term bokeh first appeared in photography discussions in the late 1990’s.[5] Taken from the Japanese, bokeh originally referred to the blur present in ink-wash painting;[6] In photography the term is now applied to the blur present in the out of focus areas in a photograph. Determining the sharpness of a particular film, lens, and now our sensors dominates the technical and aesthetics discussions in photography. Discussions on bokeh have opened a dialogue on the aesthetics of blur, blurring and out of focus elements in photographs as well encouraging research and development of lens, software and techniques to achieve bokeh. Ironically, the term bokeh has sharpened discussions of the aesthetic qualities of blur and out of focus areas of a photograph as well as the particular characteristic of lenses and lens designs in creating expressive blur in a photograph.


Details: Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 Lens with an optical adapter for Sony DSLR. Aperture setting between F/1.2—F/2.8. Note the smooth gaussian blur that is present in the out of focus area of the details. Details shown at 100% views. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)


Understanding the limitations of current lens designs is at the core of what we call photographic seeing. With current lens designs, during image formation, only one point of the image is in absolute focus, a point referred to as the focal point. During image formation, and restricted by the aperture, light rays form cones of light. If the point of light is not at the point of sharp focus each point of light images as a disc of light, known as a circle of confusion. The overlapping discs of light cause the image to look less sharp, forming bokeh, or the out of focus area of the photograph. The farther from the point of sharp focus, the larger the circles of confusion become and the more out of focus the image appears. If the size of the aperture is reduced the cones become narrower and the circles of confusion become smaller resulting in a sharper image and reducing the amount of bokeh.


Details: Minolta MC Rokkor-X 58 mm f/1.2 Lens with an optical adapter for Sony DSLR.  With aperture settings between F/1.2—F/2.8, note how the lens produced discordant hard-edged circles of confusion in the highlight areas. These areas exhibits what is often termed “bad bokeh”.  Note as well, that “good  bokeh” and “bad bokeh” are created with the same lens at the same aperture setting. Details shown at 100% views. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)


Discussions on bokeh emphasizes the complexities of image formation and the aesthetics of blur. That no term was readily used until the 1990’s highlights the dominance that image sharpness has held over technical and aesthetic discussions of image formation. Like discussions of color aesthetics, all evaluations of bokeh are subjective and relative to each lens and each lighting situation. Weighing the subtleties of good bokeh, “smooth and pleasing,” vs. bad bokeh, “jagged and discordant,”[vi] and even neutral bokeh, somewhere in between, may trivialize the aesthetics of image formation and the properties of blur in a photograph. More welcome is the dialogue on image formation that the introduction of the term bokeh has stimulated and encouraged discussions on the aesthetics of selective focus. Conclusions: the quality of light is a key factor in creating pleasing bokeh; as with discussions of sharpness, considerations of bokeh remains individual and subjective aesthetic decision.


©David Arnold, 2013.

Citations / Notes

[1] Pistacia chinensis.

[3] Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, Pistacia chinensis, Chinese Pistache, United States Forest Service, Fact Sheet ST-482, Oct. 1994.

[4] Historic California Posts, Beale Air Force Base, The California State Military Museum.

[6] Harold Davis, Practical Artistry: Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers, p 62.

[7] Harold Davis, Practical Artistry: Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers, p 62.


Google views looking north with the Lone Chinese Pistache circled,
Spenceville Wildlife Area Yuba County, California, April 2012. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)

A Point of Historical Interest—Toys Left for Julius.

Toy Portraits With the LensBaby Composer Pro


About 7 miles east of Nevada City, California, and just off Highway 20 is a Point of Historical Interest, the burial site of Julius Albert Apperson, a two-year old boy who died on May 6, 1858. In 1971, the Native Sons of the Golden West erected a monument at the site for “A pioneer who crossed the Plains to California who died and was buried here.” The Native Sons monument implies that Julius Apperson was an emigrant who died making the difficult crossing of the Sierra Nevada Range, and dedicated the monument to perpetuate “the memory of all Lone Graves throughout the State of California.”[1]



 A Point of Historical Interest: The Lone Grave of Julius Albert Apperson, Highway 20, Tahoe National Forest, Nevada County, California showing the Lone Grave Enclosure, twin cedar trees, and Native Sons of the Golden West Monument, August 6, 2013.

Julius Apperson was a native son of California who was born in 1856 in nearby Nevada City. Milton M. Apperson, Julius’s father was a tanner, and built a home in the heavily wooded area near the gravesite. The Apperson home, named White Cloud,[2] at the 3500 feet elevation on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, was near the Old Overland Emigrant Trail, one of the many variant of the California Trail, which followed the Truckee River to Donner Lake and then over Donner Pass. The original trail followed the Washington Ridge above the South Yuba River canyon and carried emigrants into Nevada City, Sacramento and the California gold fields.[3]



Native Sons of the Golden West Historical Marker, August 6, 2013.

Milton Apperson was an emigrant from Kentucky, and settled in the area in 1851 or 1852. He had recently completed construction of a new family home and he instructed his children to burn wood shavings in the yard. Julius Apperson, the youngest of four children, died on May 6, 1858 after being severely burned when he caught his pant leg in the fire while playing with his brothers and sisters. The boy died a month after the accident and was buried at the edge of family property. [4]  Shortly after the boy died, the Appersons family left the area, leaving the boy’s grave unmarked, except for two cedar seedlings. Volunteers took an interest in the Apperson grave, and in 1863 constructed a fence around the gravesite and placed a marker. [5]  The fence has been rebuilt several times, and permanent gravestone replaced the wood marker inside of the grave enclosure in 1948. In 1957, the fence was rebuilt again and painted white a small granite headstone was placed inside the grave enclosure.[6]



The Lone Grave Site With Grave Offerings, August 6, 2013.

Just after passing the historic marker, a one-lane turnout provides motorists easy access at the Lone Grave. Two white wood plaques attached to the two cedars frame the gravesite, and about 10 feet away stands the Native Sons of the Golden West Monument.  River rocks outline the bottom of the white fence and trail off at the cedars. The blue lettering on one plaque has completely disappeared and on the second plague reads “In Memory of Julius Albert Apperson, Died on May 6, 1858, Age 2 Years, 2 Mo. And 25 Days.” Passersby leave a changing array of grave offerings at the Lone Grave: stuffed bears and dogs and cats are stuffed between the white lathes of the picket fence. Winnie the Pooh pinwheels and Santa Claus hats festoon the posts of the grave enclosure. Bright Mardi Gras beaded necklaces, fake daisies, fake flower leis, and crib toys dangle from the picket slats. Plastic 4×4 jeeps, fingerboard skateboards, children’s books, plastic horses, hot wheels, rubber ducks, toy sheriff badges, golf balls, crayons, notepads, original children’s drawings, and stuffed Bambies and fish litter the ground. One day the grave enclosure will be littered with grave offerings and at the next passing, grave tenders will have removed all of the grave offerings.



Toy Portrait Set-up with Close Up Filter: The Lensbaby Composer Pro outfitted with the Sweet 35mm Lens Optic and attached to a Sony 900A full frame camera body. The Sweet 35mm is equipped with a 12 blade manually operated F.2.5—22 aperture. Selective focus is achieved by rotating the swivel ball and manually focusing on the lens. Above, a close-up filter is attached to the LensBaby lens to permit close focusing.  The tilt-shift control is especially helpful with close-focusing and macro photography.


At the 3500 feet elevation of the Sierra Nevada Range, the offerings suffer wet and snowy winters and hot summers, and the bright colors on the stuff animals quickly fade, and cobwebs stick to the pinwheels and sunglasses secured to the fence. For many years, I watching the changing display of grave offerings at the Lone Grave, and began this summer a photographic documentation of the toys left at the Lone Grave. Given the thick forest surroundings the gravesite, the picket fence enclosure is usually in heavy shade, although areas of intense sunlight penetrate the canopy of pine and cedar branches to highlight individual grave offerings. The focus of the project has become the stuffed toys crammed into the slats of the white picket fence enclosure at as guardians to Julius’s grave. Fully exposed to the weather, the expressions of stuffed captures best the changing light and color and speaks to uncertainties of existence as a two year old in the Pioneer West and as guardians of a roadside gravesite.



Toy Portrait Set-up with Close Up Filter: The Lensbaby Composer Pro outfitted with the Sweet 35mm Lens Optic equipped with a LensBaby Macro Converter.

With the exception of establishing shots to provide a context for the toy portraits, I’ve chosen to photograph the Lone Grave offerings using a LensBaby Composer Pro Lens with a Sweet Optic 35mm attached to a Sony 900A full frame camera body. The Composer Pro is a tilt shift lens, which permits the movement of the point of focus. Employing large apertures with the toy portraits, I’m also using close-up lens attachments from Plus 1 to Plus 4 magnifications, and with a few examples,  the LensBaby Macro Converter attachment. My lens choice serves to separate each stuffed toy, which line the grave enclosure. The Lensbaby Sweet Optic 35  renders each stuffed toy into a soft glow, and the close up lens brings the toys forward within the composition. The soft focus suggests of how a child might hold toys in their hands and close to their face. The soft focus also honors the sentiments and personal histories of the individuals who have left offerings at the Lone Grave and the volunteers who continue to tend the Lone Grave.


White Bear With Red Ears: LensBaby Pro Composer with 16mm Macro Converter.


 White Bear With Red Ears: LensBaby Pro Composer with Plus 1 Close-up Filter attachment.

©David Arnold, 2013


Citations / Notes:

[1] Native Sons of the Golden West, David S Mason III, Grand President. October 10, 1971.

[2] A nearby National Forest Campground continues the White Cloud name.

[3] The Old Emigrant Trail goes by several names including the Truckee Route and follows the present day Interstate 80 and California State Route 20.  Charles H. Dodd, California Trail, p. 35.

[4] John Milton Apperson, “Brother Tells Version of Early Day Tragedy” (Letter), Nevada County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 1, January 1961.