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Photographer goes to great heights

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Photographers frequently go to great lengths to get the images they seek. But few go to such great heights as Adriel Heisey.

"From Above: Images of a Storied Land," an exhibit of photos of the Southwest, taken from the air by the Montrose, Colo., photographer, is on display at the Utah Museum of Natural History through May 30.

Heisey will give a talk about his photos and the special aircraft he designed on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the University of Utah Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology Building. After the talk he will lead a gallery tour of the exhibit at the museum, located on the U.'s President's Circle (200 South). Both events are free.

Many of the photos show views of ancient sites, such as a ruin near southeastern Utah's San Juan River. Sometimes they show modern structures.

Heisey noted that his home-built Kolb Twin-Star aircraft has no cockpit, and that he flies it while strapped into the framework. That gives his camera a better range of directions to shoot, without his worrying about where a plane's windows are aimed.

"It's an open-air kind of plane," he said in a telephone interview last week. The model is not truly an ultralight aircraft, as it's too heavy and fast, and it can carry two people.

But it has a skeletal, bare-bones aspect, he said. And compared with most non-ultralights, "it flies real slowly. That, and the openness, are the reasons I use it for aerial photography."

He built the plane during 1990 and 1991, taking his first flight in it the summer of '91.

"It wasn't till I moved to the American Southwest in 1994 that I encountered the extensive ruins that we have out here," he said.

"As our society kind of sprawls across the landscape and takes over the place, those relics of times past and peoples past become more and more exquisite."

Heisey admits to scary feelings while flying in such an exposed way. "There's a kind of animal fear that I have inside of myself that can never be completely eliminated by training or experience. And I just have to acknowledge it."

Sometimes, he said, the feeling is a natural alarm system, letting him know that he is getting into a situation that may be too hard to control. That might be when the wind is becoming so strong that its difficult to control the plane against the turbulence, he said.

"You're always thinking about, what would I do right now if an engine quit?" Because it is like a glider and the plane carries its own emergency parachute, Heisey feels he may be able to land it or at least have it come down safely.

Speaking about the photos, Sarah George, the museum's director, said they don't all show prehistoric ruins, "but they're very much about man's interactions with the land.

"Some of the most moving ones are, I think, of these prehistoric sites."

Besides the scientific value they carry, recording the conditions and situations of ancient ruins, the images are beautiful. "The gallery's just gorgeous and the colors are rich and really reflect the Southwest feeling," she added.

Several large prehistoric vessels called ollas are on display along with the photos, as are some Navajo clothing and Kachinas from pueblo people.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com