How to document historical graffiti?

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How to document historical graffiti?

Postby GroundquestMSA » Apr 30, 2013 9:48 pm

I came across a small, undocumented cave today that contains 20 or so names and dates ranging from 1824 to 1914. Since I'm gathering everything I can for a publication on caves in my county, I thought it would be nice to include these. There are only two other caves in the area with known carvings that could be considered historical, and none are this old. Since they are difficult to photograph, how would you document such carvings? I remember seeing a monograph somewhere that printed a number of old names as black text in the form of the originals, but I don't know how that was produced.
Thoughts?
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby NZcaver » May 1, 2013 3:43 am

Why difficult to photograph? Have you tried off-camera flashguns (or even bright LED lights) for side lighting the scratchings?
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby batrotter » May 1, 2013 4:12 am

We documented some carvings by doing "rubbings". I believe we used some sort of an onion skin or vellum paper. You plce it over the rubbings and then take a crayon or lumber pencil and rub over the carvings. You then get a image of the carving. The actual carving will not have any crayon but the area around it will be the color of the crayon. I can dig one out at home try to post a image. People do these same sort of rubbings on headstones.
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby GroundquestMSA » May 1, 2013 5:44 am

NZcaver wrote:Why difficult to photograph? Have you tried off-camera flashguns (or even bright LED lights) for side lighting the scratchings?


Some are even difficult to see, and I have only extremely low cost photography equipment at my disposal. I took some photos yesterday with bright led side lighting from 78 angles, and the results were poor. The bulkiest lettering was legible, but most of the fainter engraving was not. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. Even If they could be photographed successfully, I don't think there's room to publish 2 pages of graffitti photos. My vision is of a half page box containing scaled b&w reproductions of what they look like.
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby Bob Thrun » May 1, 2013 6:17 am

Graffiti from the years you mention would be scratched into the rock. I photographed some old signatures. There was no one good lighting angle. Some of the scratched strokes would show shadow patterns while others would be evenly illuminated and therefore invisible in the picture. I set up my camera on a tripod and shot four flashes from the left, right, top, and bottom. Every stroke of the lettering showed shadow patterns from at least one of the flashes. I used my cave light to choose the light angles before I took the picture. I did this with film where I could leave my shutter open for all the flashes. I do not know what I would do with a digital camera. Maybe someone with digital photography experience could make suggestions.

I would not do rubbings. Often the graffiti is scratched thru a soft layer of mud or decomposed rock that would be squashed by the rubbing.
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby paul » May 1, 2013 6:32 am

I know you are looking for help with obtaining a visual record, but it might be useful to also record the graffiti itself.

For example, in the UK there is a well known collection of very old (and unfortunately not so old) historical graffiti in a Cave called Speedwel Cavern. The historical names and dates were recorded and published as well as photos taken.

See Miners Toast, Speedwell Cavern for more information.

Have you tried photgraphing the graffiti with a digital camers and boosting the contrast and varying the brightness with Photoshop or similar?
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby trogman » May 1, 2013 8:49 am

Bob Thrun wrote:Graffiti from the years you mention would be scratched into the rock. I photographed some old signatures. There was no one good lighting angle. Some of the scratched strokes would show shadow patterns while others would be evenly illuminated and therefore invisible in the picture. I set up my camera on a tripod and shot four flashes from the left, right, top, and bottom. Every stroke of the lettering showed shadow patterns from at least one of the flashes. I used my cave light to choose the light angles before I took the picture. I did this with film where I could leave my shutter open for all the flashes. I do not know what I would do with a digital camera. Maybe someone with digital photography experience could make suggestions.

I would not do rubbings. Often the graffiti is scratched thru a soft layer of mud or decomposed rock that would be squashed by the rubbing.


I am not a photographer, but I do know with better quality DSLR cameras you can do pretty much everything that you could with the old 35 mm film cameras. (such as leaving the shutter open, etc)

But since Groundquest said he only had "low-cost photo equipment," then he likely doesn't have a DSLR. Check around in your local grotto or circle of caving friends-there is bound to be a photog who has one.

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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby UnderGroundEarth » May 1, 2013 10:40 am

What about contacting a local historian? Not only would they possibly be interested in the signatures and could help you determine more about who they were, they might have a better camera or gear to help you photograph them.
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby GroundquestMSA » May 1, 2013 5:32 pm

Thanks for the suggestions so far. I've only been to the site once and want to be prepared to get something accomplished when I go back. Here's the example I referenced earlier, this is pretty much the same thing I want to do:
Image

Bob Thrun wrote:I would not do rubbings. Often the graffiti is scratched thru a soft layer of mud or decomposed rock that would be squashed by the rubbing.


A good reminder, but I may get away with trying it in this situation. All of the surfaces are hard, clean, dry, dolomite. Some of the names are extremely deeply and neatly engraved. I certainly don't want to damage anything though. I may test this method on a section of wall with no writing and see how well the natural inconsistencies of the rock show up, and if there is any effect on the rock itself.

trogman wrote:But since Groundquest said he only had "low-cost photo equipment," then he likely doesn't have a DSLR.

That's for sure. I have a $15 pawnshop digital that I bought for its long exposure capabilities.
trogman wrote:Check around in your local grotto or circle of caving friends-there is bound to be a photog who has one.
There's not enough of us to form a circle...a colon maybe. I'll try some more photos though, I may be able to use them to produce transcripts.

UnderGroundEarth wrote:What about contacting a local historian? Not only would they possibly be interested in the signatures and could help you determine more about who they were, they might have a better camera or gear to help you photograph them.


That's a fantastic idea that I've tried to act on in the past. Sadly THE local historian died just as I began to take an interest in local history. I have some excellent written histories though, that should help me identify at least some of the evil vandals :big grin:
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby trogman » May 2, 2013 6:22 am

GroundquestMSA wrote:Thanks for the suggestions so far. I've only been to the site once and want to be prepared to get something accomplished when I go back. Here's the example I referenced earlier, this is pretty much the same thing I want to do:
Image

Bob Thrun wrote:I would not do rubbings. Often the graffiti is scratched thru a soft layer of mud or decomposed rock that would be squashed by the rubbing.


A good reminder, but I may get away with trying it in this situation. All of the surfaces are hard, clean, dry, dolomite. Some of the names are extremely deeply and neatly engraved. I certainly don't want to damage anything though. I may test this method on a section of wall with no writing and see how well the natural inconsistencies of the rock show up, and if there is any effect on the rock itself.

trogman wrote:But since Groundquest said he only had "low-cost photo equipment," then he likely doesn't have a DSLR.

That's for sure. I have a $15 pawnshop digital that I bought for its long exposure capabilities.
trogman wrote:Check around in your local grotto or circle of caving friends-there is bound to be a photog who has one.
There's not enough of us to form a circle...a colon maybe. I'll try some more photos though, I may be able to use them to produce transcripts.

UnderGroundEarth wrote:What about contacting a local historian? Not only would they possibly be interested in the signatures and could help you determine more about who they were, they might have a better camera or gear to help you photograph them.


That's a fantastic idea that I've tried to act on in the past. Sadly THE local historian died just as I began to take an interest in local history. I have some excellent written histories though, that should help me identify at least some of the evil vandals :big grin:


Fascinating! Especially intriguing is the "J B Littlepage 1837" signature. That sounds like an Indian name, or at least an Anglicized version of an Indian name. Also seems a relative of this person signed in as well- "H D Littlepage." All in all there seems to be a treasure trove of historical signatures in this cave. I would imagine Marion O. Smith would love to look at it, although it would be a long trip for him from middle TN. He is a retired historian, as well as a very active caver, and he has a particular interest in caving-related history and historical artifacts. You may want to give him a call; look him up in the Member's Manual. If nothing else, he may be able to suggest someone in your neck of the woods that can help you out.

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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby rjack » May 2, 2013 11:38 am

GroundquestMSA wrote:Thanks for the suggestions so far. I've only been to the site once and want to be prepared to get something accomplished when I go back. Here's the example I referenced earlier, this is pretty much the same thing I want to do:
Image


I have no idea how this was made, but its impressive. If you get a tutorial or description of how this was done from the 'author' can you post it here?
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby GroundquestMSA » May 2, 2013 6:10 pm

Trogman - that's not my cave, that's what I want to duplicate. I talked to the man who produced that example, more on that later.
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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby trogman » May 3, 2013 8:51 am

GroundquestMSA wrote:Trogman - that's not my cave, that's what I want to duplicate. I talked to the man who produced that example, more on that later.


LOL :doh: My bad! I misunderstood.

All the same, MOS can probably advise you on how to proceed. You have to reach him by phone or snail mail, though.

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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby JD » May 3, 2013 12:05 pm

Trogman, I can help you with recording the historic grafitti. I have some experience working with Mr. Smith on these issues. We would record the data on paper and with digital photography. Rubbings are generally not recommended.

Where are you located, as I might know some local recourses to help.

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Re: How to document historical graffiti?

Postby GroundquestMSA » May 3, 2013 1:44 pm

The example shown above was created by Bert Ashbrook for Caves in the Richlands Area of Greebrier County, West Virginia. He says by email:
Bert Ashbrook wrote:For Price Cave in the Richlands monograph, while in the cave I transcribed the “graffiti” in my survey notebook and took pictures. Then back at home, I manually traced/re-transcribed them onto nice paper and checked them against the photographs. I didn’t try to persevere the signatures’ relationship to one another, so for example if they were facing all different directions in the cave, that didn’t show up in the monograph. I did try to maintain their relative size.


So I decided to try that. I went back this morning and did the survey then started scribbling. I copied 27 signatures before running out of time. There are probably 30 or so left to go. I tried to scan directly from my survey book but the pencil didn't show cleanly enough to suit me, so I traced the signatures with 3 different line weights depending on the thickness of the originals and scanned those. The results aren't too bad, not exactly like the originals (I didn't try to preserve relative size) but enough to give you an idea. Let me know what you think.

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