The exhibition of aerial photographs by Adriel Heisey at the Albuquerque Museum is a heart-warming, eye-appealing, mind-altering journey through New Mexico’s past.
Heisey’s images also reveal the soul we feel throbbing beneath this land we all love. A quotation from journalist Juan Estevan Arellano found in the exhibition says it all: “Querencia is that love of place—ensouling. The land ensouls you. I think you’re born with that in your genes when you are born on this type of landscape. When you’re young, you don’t see it that way, but the older you get the more attached you become to the landscape.” As the ancient natural landscape is sacrificed to modern human interventions, what is lost is the “soul” Arellano refers to.
Adriel Heisey, flying in a 450-pound, thirty-foot wingspan Kolb aircraft, barely more than a pipe with wings and a rudder, cruised the Southwest and took photographs of the vanishing landscape with its ancient ruins. He flew like some wise, caring bird, unwilling to let us forget the beauty and deep feelings for place a state like New Mexico instills in us. In front of the small pusher engine, sitting on an exposed plastic seat with his leg strapped to the joystick so he could have both hands free to photograph, Heisey was perched in the open as if he were the eyes of a bird able to survey everything around, above, and below.
A plane like his is included in the exhibit so we can imagine the kind of flight and views he experienced. Flight logs are provided for young people to follow his various journeys and actually see and participate in his adventures as he swoops down to take amazing pictures of some of the Southwest’s greatest ruin or a tribal dance at a Window Rock powwow or an archeologist working alone in the empty spaces of a desert dig. For anyone who ever thought about wanting to be a bird and fly above it all, this show is a must-see.
More important, however, are the record and the rare glimpses Heisey gives us of vanished civilizations and landscapes that underlie the great power of the American Southwest as a special place on earth. A lot has been written recently about photographs, especially those coming out of the war in Iraq. How they tell us things about events and places, but also how they can deceive us into thinking we know what is real, while we actually don’t. Heisey’s work takes the argument to another level. What he captures in these unusual images is what birds see, but more than that, he captures what is past as well as what is present. Novelist and Laguna Pueblo member Leslie Marmon Silko tells us: “The ancient landscape is a lesson about change, and the inevitability of change, and the humility with which we humans should undertake to do anything—especially here in the Southwest.”
Heisey’s photographs are ecology in pictures. Along with vestiges of human interventions from Sonora to Colorado, we see from above the enormous effects of weather, human impacts on nature, and how the landscape has reacted to all of these factors. We see the immense beauty of this landscape and feel the depth of history and geologic time etched into the images.
The exhibition is titled “From Above: Images from a Storied Land,” and it is exactly that—the stories of the land itself, stories of ancient peoples, stories of ourselves, and the story of this amazing artist snapping well-chosen, artfully composed, and intelligently selected photographs of the past and present in ways that suggest possibilities for the future.
For example, looking at these images one can no longer wonder about water in the region, because that story is there in bold face for everyone to see and ponder. Author William de Buys is quoted at the exhibition: “The past is every bit as gnarly, layered, complex, difficult, ambiguous, paradoxical as the present.” Water scarcity has been a gnarly and difficult issue in our region for centuries. If we fail to come to grips with our water problems today, our ruins and skeletons will be the subject of another intrepid photographer or other eye in the sky circling the arid Southwest in the not too distant future.
The exhibition runs through September 26 at the Albuquerque Museum. Further information is available at (505) 243-7255 or www.cabq.gov/museum.
Carl Hertel—teacher, artist, writer, visionary
Carl Hertel was Signpost icon
—Ty and Barb Belknap
Sadly, Querencia is Carl Hertel’s last article in the Signpost. He died unexpectedly from a stroke on July 25 in California. He had just recently returned to California from New Mexico with his wife Ashley where they were visiting friends and family, as well as shopping for a house.
Hertel was born in California, and lived there most of his life, including the last several years, but readers of his monthly Signpost column over the last ten years know that his heart was in New Mexico. His last trip here included a visit to the Albuquerque Museum and resulted in the Querencia article—“For anyone who ever thought about wanting to be a bird and fly above it all, this show is a must-see.” We can imagine a grinning Hertel himself clutching the joy stick of that tiny aircraft and flying over the Southwestern landscape that he loved. He flew his amazing intellect in much the same way to get an overview of the artistic, literary, spiritual, environmental, and political landscapes that he wove together in his articles.
We first met Hertel in 1994 during our first year of publishing the Signpost from the El Zócalo complex in Bernalillo. He rented the second floor “library” across the hall. One look at this quiet man with sparkling eyes and long white beard and you knew he had a story to tell. Several of Hertel’s family members have told us that Carl really enjoyed writing for our little paper, and they plan to follow up on his wish that some of his Signpost work be compiled into a book, along with some of his other works.
Hertel retired as an accomplished professor and department head at Claremont College in 1984 where he taught art history and environmental studies. A highly spiritual man, he traveled and read extensively, and his visual artwork included collages that are similar in many ways to his thoughtful prose. He was a student of Qui Gong and was sent to China and Tibet as part of his long-time practice of Tibetan Buddhism.
Hertel is survived by a brother and sister, five children, five grandchildren, and Ashley. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Carl’s choice of charity: The New Mexico Environmental Law Center.
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center works to protect New Mexico's communities and their environments through public education, legislative initiatives, administrative negotiations and litigation. Since 1987, the Law Center has been providing free or low cost legal services to citizens who otherwise would not have a voice in the complex legal proceedings that directly impact their environment. They can be reached at www.nmenvirolaw.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, (505) 989-9022, fax (505) 989-3769, or New Mexico Environmental Law Center, 1405 Luisa Street, Suite 5, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505.
We will greatly miss him and his encouraging words.