From Above: Photographs by Adriel Heisey at Phoenix Sky Harbor

Photographer Adriel Heisey steering his ultra-light aircraft, with his right leg strapped to the control stick while he captures aerial images with his camera.
Photographer Adriel Heisey steering his ultra-light aircraft, with his right leg strapped to the control stick while he captures aerial images with his camera.
Adriel Heisey

It's hard to beat a birds-eye view of the landscape and the structures assembled on it simply for the context of how everything fits together.

Pilot and photographer Adriel Heisey has been flying across the southwest for nearly 30 years, casting his view upon a plethora of prehistoric ruins and ancient archeological sites and marveling at how everything--land, buildings and ancient people--fit together.

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Eventually, Heisey built his own ultra-light plane so he could photograph these places.

"As I flew over the southwest since 1984 I've had this unparalleled opportunity to examine the landscape in a way few people get too," he explains from his Gallup, New Mexico home. "I fly over it every day relatively low, compared to how most people fly, and relatively slow compared to being in an airliner. That leaves me lots of time to study, think and feel. That's kind of the origin of my photography."

A pilot flying for the Navajo tribal government ("Kind of like Air Force One for the Navajo Nation," he says.), Heisey's photographs are currently on display at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Phoenix Deer Valley Airport.

"From Above: Photographs by Adriel Heisey," in partnership with Archaeology Southwest, a private nonprofit organization in Tucson that explores and protects ancient sites in North America, can be viewed in Sky Harbor Terminal 2 through June 2 and in Terminal 4, level 3 through July 21. The Deer Valley images will be up through June 2.


The free exhibition also features a mobile application with audio excerpts collected from people--ranchers, archeologists, Native American, even Heisey--who have had some connection with the sites in the exhibition.

Images feature numerous cultures, prehistoric to contemporary, including Anasazi, Hohokam, Navajo, Hopi and others, and were shot in Northern Mexico, Utah, California and the Four Corners region.

"One of the guiding principals in choosing the images was their intrinsic appeal as images. We weren't trying to have a nice cross-section of all cultures," Heisey explains. "We were really trying to show the intrinsic mystery and beauty of prehistoric sites on the landscape no matter what culture they came from."

Heisey says the most important aspect to consider when viewing the images is the context of the structures, not just the site layout, but the surrounding landscape and how it fit into a master plan for the community.

He points to the Salmon Ruins as an example. This Anasazi homestead was located practically on the banks of the San Juan River, used as a source of food and drinking water. It also provided a floodplain of fertile farmland. The strategic importance of all this can all be seen Heisey's photo.

"But, it basically just didn't work," he says of the location, seen in Excavated Pueblo by River, Salmon Ruins and San Juan River. "It was subject to severe flooding and they were just ravaged. They abandoned it because it was just unsustainable being that close to a major river."

The photographs--60 in all--debuted at the Albuquerque Museum in May 2004. After that show closed, the images have been on constant tour. Heisey is excited the exhibit has finally landed at an airport.

"Probably more people are going to see it now in the airport context then at any museum show simply because the volume of passengers coming through the airport," he says.

With his ties to Archaeology Southwest, the photos are a major outreach tool.

"We're (showing the) general public what the magic and mysteries of these places are, and the intrigue from seeing them so low and so close," he says. "That's what the low aerial perspective brings. It's an appreciation for (the ruins) size and scale and layout, but (also) its relationship to the surrounding landscape."

For more information on the exhibition, contact the Sky Harbor Public Information Office at (602) 673-5355.

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