Katchina Daisy

The Cedar Mesa Project

The Photographer's Dilemna

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"The 'discovery' of Anasazi country was inevitable, but its consumption has become rabid, increasing…by more than threefold in about two years. Whether voluntary or involuntary, solitude in this crowded backcountry has become an anachronism, replaced by what has been called 'managed remoteness, planned romance' booked in advance by permits that ration the land among the herds in order to minimize damage."
Meloy, Ellen, Raven's Exile, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1994. p. 82.

This may be a mistake. Exhibiting photographs of sites poses a real ethical dilemma to both photographer and viewer. Photographs inform. They invite. They educate, they exploit. There is a natural dilemma between the sense of awe, inspiration, beauty and respect that most photographers hope to create in their images and the increased visitation, violation and vandalism that often results, directly or not, from the public presentation of images containing archaeological sites. If this exhibit, like many books and calendars, propels more people onto the landscape to trod over middens, pocket potsherds and arrowheads then it will have been for naught.

If, however, you leave with a heightened awareness and respect for the landscape and the people who inhabit(ed) it, that is good. If, the writing and photography act as a catalyst for you to redefine your relationship to this land, this people, that too, is good.

If you refine your approach to visiting sites so as to reduce human impact then I have been successful. If you become active in the preservation and protection (from public and governmental abuses) then I'll be delighted.

Photography has been an ally of southwest archaeology since its early beginnings. Like Yellowstone and many other early national parks, photographs of ancient Puebloan sites were presented to the public to inform, document, educate and invite visitation with the ultimate goal being preservation. The paradigm of the time dictated the viewing of these ancient peoples, their objects and site remains as a curiosity, a novelty. Today we are witnessing the result of decades of growth of public interest in visiting sites. Sites and artifacts are disappearing from the landscape at an alarming rate. Even the best guarded and protected of sites like Chaco NHP are witnessing increased visitation and its attendant stress on sites.

There is a danger in this relationship. Many are the photographs that could have occupied this space from negatives and transparencies stored or from sites yet to visit. Fear of returning to favorite sites and seeing walls scarred by graffiti or unnaturally fallen has me question showing any that are not guarded by rangers or guides. Doubt and decision. I have chosen to engage in the positive photographic presentation of ancient cultures, that through exhibiting their Inherent beauty and other powers viewers would gain stronger appreciation and join in their preservation.

Concerned photographers can best aide in the task by being cautious when writing captions. Avoid naming a site or offering its canyon location unless it is protected to the degree that Canyon deChelly, Mesa Verde, Ute Mountain tribal Park, Wupatki, Navajo National Monument and Chaco Canyon NHP are. When composing try to keep recognizable landmarks out of the scene so viewers cannot use your photograph to navigate over the natural resource to reach the cultural resource. Be as precise as you can when offering archaeological information. Visit with the governing land management agency concerning your work but do not hold their opinions as the gospel truth. Follow proper procedures for visiting sites. Educate as often as you can. Volunteer use of your photographs to environmental groups and remember that you walk on lands still inhabited by "those who have gone before." Assume you were invited to visit their home and act accordingly.

by Bruce Hucko

Resources for Visiting the Cedar Mesa Area
Museums, Exhibits about the Cedar Mesa Area
Antiquities Laws and Regulations.

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URL of this page: http://bcn.boulder.co.us/environment/cacv/cacvquan.htm
Revised '9-Jun-2001,11:10:14'
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