These glyphs are derived from photographs of the tracks of bark beetles. When beetle tracks started showing up in my photographs, I didn’t pay as much attention to them as much as I do now. They’re not the kind of thing you wake up and decide to go pursue. If you’re in the woods, and you encounter these intricate engravings, you take a picture. Only later, I began to pay real attention to the patterns.
I found that millions of acres across the US are affected by the damage caused by these beetles, though they are more common in the West. Reports indicate that global warming has increased the extent and severity of the infestation. Winters are not as cold, enabling more beetles to survive. Summers are longer, allowing the beetles to fly farther and expand their range. Higher altitudes are warmer, giving the beetles access to new tree species that don’t have natural defences against them.
When we go into the woods, it’s poignant to see the dead trees where there was once a beautiful forest. And yet, there is a certain fascination and beauty to the patterns engraved into the wood by the beetle larvae as they eat beneath the bark. Their paths form linear, calligraphic signatures that reminded me of the tugras, or personal ciphers of the Ottoman sultans. These symbols, composed of stylized interwoven strokes, were unique to each ruler and served to validate each document he wrote.
In the woods, there are thousands of beetles, from thousands of species, in thousands of trees, and each one leaves a trail as different as a fingerprint and as elegant as the Sultan’s signature. Each trail is composed of thousands of bites taken over a period of months as the larva grows and matures. Rather than by the sure stroke of the calligrapher’s pen, the path grows with the insect.
My images present these patterns individually, as artifacts: beautiful signatures which, sadly, spell destruction.
Jim Frazer was published in Earth Issue 001. Purchase a copy here.
See more of Frazer's work on his website.