Now and then The new Oblique Views exhibit at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
Tnewest example of now-and-then photography books has more than one intriguing wrinkle. In Adriel Heisey’s stunning images, the photographer shows us the changes that have occurred on ancient Pueblo landscapes since 1929, when they were photographed by Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Seventeen such pairings are on display in the exhibition Oblique Views: Archaeology,
Photography, and Time, opening Sunday, Oct. 25, with book signings, dance performances, and photography activities at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (710 Camino Lejo).
The most obviously dramatic contrast in the Lindbergh and Heisey views is of Chaco Canyon’s Pueblo Bonito. The best-known Chacoan great house, the D-shaped complex may have had more than 300 rooms on the ground floor alone at the height of the Ancestral Puebloan society there nine or 10 centuries ago. The Pueblo Bonito complex rose to four or five stories at the rear, near the canyon wall. In the 1929 photo, a monumental slab named Threatening Rock stood slightly away from the canyon wall. It had been stabilized for a millennium by the ancient inhabitants with pine-log props and a stone terrace at its foot, but in the 1930s, National Park Service engineers, fearing calamity, cleared material from behind the slab. Less than a decade later, it fell, obliterating or damaging 65 rooms in the northeast section of the pueblo.
The Oblique Views project was conceived in 2004 by the Tucson-based nonprofit Archaeology Southwest, then known as the Center for Desert Archaeology. In the book Oblique Views: Aerial Photography and Southwest Archaeology (Museum of New Mexico Press), which accompanies the exhibition, essays
by Maxine E. McBrinn, the museum’s curator of archaeology; Linda J. Pierce, Archaeology Southwest’s deputy director; and historian and writer Erik O. Berg illuminate the context of history, architecture, and archaeology behind the photos.
The Lindbergh photographs were taken at the request of Alfred Vincent Kidder, a pioneer in archaeology in the Southwest beginning in 1915. Fourteen years later, when Kidder was chairman of historical research at the Carnegie Institution, he hired Lindy after the airman expressed a willingness to take aerial photographs of archaeological sites in Mesoamerica and the American Southwest. The new exhibition’s photographs from the 1929 aerial survey — with Anne Morrow Lindbergh at the controls and possibly photographing some of the sites — document Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon, as well as Santa Fe, Pecos Pueblo, and Santa Clara Pueblo.
Nearly 80 years later, after being commissioned by Archaeology Southwest, Heisey began to rephotograph the same sites. Heisey is a self-taught photographer. He bought his first camera the year he graduated from high school in Newville, Pennsylvania. He moved to the Southwest at age twenty-six. Soon he was living in Window Rock and flying professionally, ferrying the Navajo leadership around the vast reservation, which he still does. Heisey has published four books featuring his aerial photography, among them Under the Sun: A Sonoran Desert Odyssey (Rio Nuevo, 2000)
and The Rio Grande: An Eagle’s View (WildEarth Guardians, 2011).
Heisey controls his Flight Design CTSW airplane with his right leg and both feet, and while in “slow flight” mode — sometimes moving at less than 40 miles per hour — he leans out of the open cockpit door to photograph the landscape. In 2008, he set up his camera to feed images into a laptop. Now, at a glance, he could compare his images with the Lindbergh photos and fine-tune his shooting perspective.
The MIAC exhibition features Heisey’s prints and new prints of the Lindbergh material. As the team began exploring the Lindbergh photo collection, archivists at the Palace of the Governors, where it is housed, were alarmed at the state of deterioration of the old nitrate negatives. In May 2007, Pierce and photographic collections curator Jannelle Weakly from the Arizona State Museum traveled to Santa Fe to make high-resolution scans of the 198 remaining negatives.
The exhibition prints were not made from those scans, however. “We started off using them but later realized that the prints we had in the Laboratory of Anthropology archives, most of which were printed at the time the Lindberghs were conducting their aerial photographic survey or shortly after, were often better,” McBrinn told Pasatiempo. “Many of the negatives had degenerated over the many years since they were produced. So the images in the exhibition are scans from the photographs rather than from the negatives. But the effort to preserve the negatives still triggered the whole process that led to the exhibition.”
Heisey made two of his photos using color transparency film with a medium-format Pentax 645 camera. The most recent images, including the Northern New Mexico photography done early in 2015, were shot
The joy in having a small plane is going out and exploring these Chacoan outliers, many of which are unknown to any except the hardcore Chacoan researchers.
— photographer Adriel Heisey
with a high-tech (36-megapixel) Nikon D810 camera. The viewer will notice that the detail in Heisey’s photos is much sharper than in the 1929 images. Two factors that were realities in Lindbergh’s time were large, bulky cameras and slower film that necessitated shooting at slower shutter speeds, at which motion tends to blur. “In my work, I have all the technological advantages and the benefit of having done this for a long time, so I sort of made all the mistakes earlier in my career,” Heisey said.
The clarity differential is obvious, for example, in the photos of Chaco’s Chetro Ketl complex. It also could be that the ruins — the clusters of room blocks and kivas — have been architecturally cleaned up, or stabilized, by the National Park Service, so that everything stands out more clearly. “That’s it,” Heisey agreed. “It’s funny: It has happened both in reality and photographically.”
Is Lindbergh a personal hero? “I have to confess that until this project, he wasn’t someone that I paid a lot of attention to, but as this all came within my sphere of awareness, I developed a particular admiration for what he did and also more of a personal identification with his life path,” Heisey said. “There’s a fundamental core passion that I readily identified with. There is a lot of adversity and a lot of danger associated with this work, and I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that in order to surmount that and enjoy the special magic of it, you have to have that fire burning deep inside, and that’s what I recognized in Charles Lindbergh as I read his biography.
“Besides the work with the Navajo Nation, I do fly for fun. I have my own airplane, and the reason I have it is mostly for my aerial photography work, but it’s also for exploration and discovery and creative engagement.” Heisey is working on several projects, including one about Chaco. The more he has flown and seen, the more he has been fascinated by the widespread geography of the Chacoan world. There are remnants of the civilization on the landscape even in the vicinity of Gallup, 65 miles southwest of Pueblo Bonito. “Oh, yeah, and a long way south of Gallup, actually. The joy in having a small plane is going out and exploring these Chacoan outliers, many of which are unknown to any except the hardcore Chacoan researchers. Finding all this out is a wonderful way of enlivening the landscape.”
He isn’t sure how many of the remote sites from the Chacoan world are visited by Native peoples today. “I think some are, but in other cases they’re forgotten. The Navajos are kind of forbidden to spend time at these places; they’re mostly known as places to stay away from. And many of the Chacoan sites are on Navajo land. The Navajo Nation’s archaeology department has its own Chacoan site-protection program. With oil and gas development, mining, pipelines, and roads, there are always threats, partly because these features are not known, so it’s real important to document them.
“Some traces of the culture are so subtle and so little is known that they could be destroyed before we even knew they were there. I have taken a special interest in the Chacoan road system because the roads are often away from any ruins and often can only be seen from the air, and they’re so delicate. We’re talking about a delicate trace on the landscape that’s a thousand years old.”
Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, 2004, photo Adriel Heisey;
opposite page, Pueblo Bonito, 1929, photo Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh; images courtesy Oblique Views: Aerial Photography and Southwest Archaeology,
Charles A. Lindbergh & Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Adriel Heisey, edited by Maxine E. McBrinn,
essays by Linda J. Pierce and Erik O. Berg, published by the Museum of New Mexico Press, 2015