This collection of photographs displays some of the Shawnee National Forest’s most fascinating secrets, Native American rock art.  All of the images were captured in both Jackson and Randolph Counties in Southern Illinois using an old 4×5 press camera.

Rock art was an art form practiced by our region’s early inhabitants.  There are two general types of rock art: petrolglyphs and pictographs.  Petroglyphs are made into rock by either methods of pecking or carving.  The Native Americans used tools that included bone or sharp rock to create these types of images.  Pictographs are painting made onto the rock surfaces.  The paints used for pictographs were very durable and were made from either crushed rock containing high concentrations of iron, or from pigments found in various plants.  These ingredients would be mixed with animal fat and the resulting paint would penetrate deeply into the rock.  This deep penetration further helped to preserve these images from centuries of abuse from the elements.  It was also common practice to both carve an image and then paint over it.

Most of the images in this collection are from the Mississippian and Woodland periods, but some Archaic carvings may also be present.  The Archaic carvings are likely to be basic geometric designs and linear scrapes.  Some of the larger sites have images with significant stylistic variances, which leads experts to believe those sites were visited and decorated over great periods of time.

These are sacred grounds and it was a genuine privilege to have the opportunity to both visit and photograph them.  There are no maps or trails to a majority of these sites and people are very secretive with their locations.  These sites are easy targets for vandals and some of that damage can be seen in several of the prints.  Two things that help preserve the less damaged sites are their remoteness and the difficulty accessing them.

These areas stimulated feelings of enthrallment and reverence, though their solitude was haunting at times.  I would occasionally find myself looking over shoulder during my visits for no reason other than a funny feeling.  My German shepherd, Greta, who was my sole companion, would help to keep my nerves at bay.

Mike Chervinko, Artist

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Technical Information

Camera – Vintage Busch Pressman Model D 4×5 view camera

Camera Lens – Fujinon 150mm f 1:5.6

Negatives – Ilford HP5

Negative Developer – Kodak D-76

Enlarger – Beseler Type B-15A, circa late 1950’s

Enlarging Lens – Rodenstock  Rodagon 135mm f 1:5.6

Enlarging Papers – Kentmere VC Fine print fiber based and Oriental Multi grade Fiber based

Paper Developer – Kodak Dektol

Fixer for Paper and Film — Photographer’s Formulary TF-5

Toner – Selenium for enhanced contrast, a cool cast to the tones and improved image permanence

*Only natural lighting was used to capture these images. No filters were used.  All effects were either created in the camera or in the wet darkroom.  No digital manipulation went into the development of these prints.

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IMG_6601-Lo-FiMike Chervinko has dedicated himself to documenting the region he knows best, southern Illinois.  Chervinko uses a film-based large format camera to capture images and produces prints in his personal darkroom – methods that were once mainstream but have fallen out of favor in the digital era.  It is an attraction to the physical and visceral and a love for the organic feel of the final product that draw him to these antiquated processes.  He remains committed to the integrity of handmade art in an age increasingly governed by megapixels and gadgets that beep.

Chervinko’s award-winning photographs have been shown across the country and in Europe, though he prefers to keep his work close to home.  He has hosted numerous local solo exhibits at venues including Carbondale’s Longbranch Coffeehouse, the Public Library in Carbondale, the Fern Fair gallery in Carbondale, at the Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site in Collinsville and at the SIUC University museum in Carbondale.  He is also active with the Jackson County Historical Society where he maintains their website and works in their photo department.  He is presently creating an exhibit from the Historical Society’s material of the Tri-state Tornado to go on display January, 2014 at the University Museum at SIUC.  He lives in Carbondale with his wife Daisy, and daughters, Chloe and Hannah.