Towards a vaster frame
01.15.2010, 1:25 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

postcard purchased in 2009 at the Historic Wendover Airfield Museum, Wendover airfield circa 1940, no photo attribution (

This postcard hung in the rack amongst others. Celebratory scenes of men in uniforms, planes, communication towers, clearly it was a nation at work. This is the image that stood out, jumped off the rack with its difference.  The stark clean lines of the “X” upon Wendover Airfield not only demarcated a built space within a vast, uninhabited space. The “X” also literally marks the Pleistocene lakebed as target, landing zone, and proving ground for the atomic era. Lake Bonneville prepared the space 10,000 years ago and humans in the 1940’s put this landscape to use for their purposes. A seemingly omnipotent view is afforded by a few thousand feet of altitude above the playa floor. From here, the lakebed stretches towards the horizon, offering up a blank slate readied for the urgent (human) task at hand. It was from here that the Enola Gay headed for Guam, Tinian and finally Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.

William L. Fox wrote the following words in his most recent book, Aereality, in preparation for a recent departure (via airplane) from Wendover Airfield.

“My reaction is that aerial images are now more important than ever to study as aesthetic objects within the broader range of visual culture, precisely because they are so widespread in their use and influence. Aerial representations of the earth’s surface, whether photographic or remotely sensed and digitally reconstructed images, are used for everything from land-use planning to military campaigns…aerial imagery is now infinitely penetrable; you can interpolate any kind of digital information into it and map any kind of change upon it. It is perhaps at this point of malleability when aesthetics actually provide more efficient and relevant algorithms for parsing images than mathematics…It becomes my conviction that more than ever we needed to understand why and how we accord such authority to views elevated literally and figuratively above all others… If our view of the world has been increasingly aerialized since World War II- in part because our view of that war was so dominated by aerial imagery-flying out of a former military base from that era would “ground” my writing in a specific set of circumstances.”

The postcard begs for the lake to return and to have material presence once again. By washing into view, the lake would bring with it a longer, vaster geologic perspective on the historical moment contained within the postcard’s frame.  After all, the distinct strandlines in the background hold a memory of Lake Bonneville’s shores across thousands of years, visible even from this height. By interpolating the lake into the postcard’s photograph, perhaps we can begin our initiation into deep time. Bonneville magically “returns” in the spirit of Eliade’s Eternal Return of Great Time/sacred time.  The Lake returns as the mythical and sacred ancestor to the landscape depicted in the postcard.  While the “X” of Wendover airfield becomes illuminated as Eliade’s profane: the strandlines of human history.

Wendover Airfield sinking below the strandline of ancient Lake Bonneville

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