From Above: Images of a Storied Land at the Albuquerque Museum
By Steven Robert Allen
A lot of people get freaked out by flying. For whatever reason, I'm not one of them. My fearlessness has little to do with any innate courage. The main reason flying doesn't terrify me is because it doesn't seem either real or possible. I still find it hard to believe that a big hunk of metal can lift off the ground under its own power. Aside from a few bumps—what they call "turbulence" in the trade—spending a couple hours in an airplane is like spending a couple hours in a cramped apartment watching an aerial view of clouds and mountains on a tiny oval-screened television.
Adriel Heisey has a more visceral association with the experience of flying. After learning to fly as a teenager, he spent many years as an official pilot for the Navajo Nation. After constructing his own customized aircraft, he managed to combine his two greatest passions, his love of photography and his love of flying.
Heisey's images have been featured in National Geographic and Smithsonian, as well as in exhibits all over the country. A new exhibit of his photographs recently opened at the Albuquerque Museum. Titled From Above: Images of a Storied Land, the show includes 60 large-scale, full-color, high-definition images of the desert Southwest.
The exhibit focuses on the manner in which humans have altered the landscape from prehistory through the present. Heisey's photographs dramatically document the way people have farmed, settled, populated and manipulated the land for millennia.
A carbon copy of Heisey's 450-pound collapsible Kolb Twinstar airplane is displayed in the middle of the exhibit. Heisey modified the steering mechanism on the craft so that he can fly it with his legs while using both hands to snap pictures. It's no picnic. The temperature often drops to 25 degrees below zero, and Heisey is totally exposed.
Heisey seems to prefer it that way, though—cruising low to the ground, feet dangling in the desert air. He certainly captures some amazing images. His photographs reveal such familiar man-made monuments as Chaco Canyon's Anasazi ruins or a freeway interchange in a whole new light.
Heisey's pictures are uniformly beautiful. My one complaint is that the exhibit provides little detailed context for thinking about the ways in which humanity has altered the Southwest over the past 2,000-odd years. From Above would benefit from a chronology of settlement in the region along with some sort of display documenting the impact humans have made on the land.
This is not a big gripe, though. From Above succeeds in allowing viewers to see our world in a whole new way by flying vicariously over the desert Southwest. In the end, that's more than enough.
From Above: Images of a Storied Land, an exhibit featuring aerial photographs by Adriel Heisey, runs through Sept. 26 at the Albuquerque Museum. $4 general, $3 New Mexico residents with valid ID, $2 seniors, $1 kids 12 and under. Admission is free to Albuquerque Museum Foundation members. Everyone gets in free the first Wednesday of the month. 243-7255.
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