Magazine Article


Architecture of the Ancient Ones


Architecture of the
Ancient Ones

val brinkerhoff captures the majesty and
mystery of earth's sacred and curious places


Places like the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the standing Dolmens of Stonehenge, and the ancient dwellings of the Anasazi in America's Southwest.
Val Brinkerhoff, commercial photographer for some 25 years and associate professor of Photography in the Art Department at Brigham Young University for the last six years, has formed a connection with these sacred and curious places by capturing them on film. Having shot just about everything—from gold mines and helicopter horse roundups to fashion models, corporate executives, and the desert landscape—Brinkerhoff longed for greater meaning in his life and creative work. He found it with the ancients.
Explains Brinkerhoff, "When I first saw some of the 1,000-year-old dwellings of the Anasazis, I knew I had to go there and create in that space. Although I was initially attracted to the structures' visual appeal, I became motivated by a desire to help preserve these sites, which are becoming gravely compromised by natural erosion, vandalism, and increasing visitation."
Ironically, photographing such sites, even though generally unidentified, often draws even more attention to them. "As other visitors continue to seek out and experience these special places, " says Brinkerhoff, "it is my hope that my interpretations will serve as a valuable documentary record of these priceless treasures at a point in time less impacted by modern man. I also hope that the photographs will inspire new visitors to value and protect these fragile places for future study and reflection."

Holly Group, Hovenweep National
Monument, Colorado, 1200 AD
Doorways, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco
Culture National Historic Park,
New Mexico, 1200 AD
Fire Roof Ruin, Colorado
Plateau, 1200 AD

What began as a curiosity, became a six-year project for Brinkerhoff: "Architecture of the Ancient Ones." From 1993 to 1999, Brinkerhoff spent most of his weekends—he taught photography weekdays at Brigham Young University—in the Southwest's Four Corners region, where most of the ancient ruins are located. Most of these former dwellings are on high perches atop canyon cliff faces.
"Finding the ruins represented one of the greatest challenges in the project since archeologists, Native Americans, park rangers, and others are reluctant to divulge specific locations." Brinkerhoff found many of the ruins via other photographers. Trying to locate someof the more remote dwellings, he logged over 100, 000 miles in his Nissan 4wd truck in just one year. For one search he had to cross a shallow river 58 times to reach the site. His advice: Never give up.
These ruins hold rich historic, cultural, and architectural significance, and
are a most exquisite example of `form follows function.' Made mostly of hand-carved sandstone, the structures blend majestically with the landscape. Nearly always facing south, under a cliff-top overhang, these houses have shade in the summer and come the winter, the sun heats up the rock to keep the dwellers warm at night. They're hidden from the rains and other Native Americans.
As a point of historical accuracy, Anasazi is a modern-day term for "ancient ones," who lived around 1100 AD. Long translated as "ancient enemies" in the Pueblo Indian tongue, the word actually means "ancient ancestors." It is believed today's Pueblo Indians are their direct descendants.
On each of his explorations, Brinkerhoff traveled solo. Though married and the father of four children, he felt the work involved some danger and required concentration and solitude. The upside of this is that he often had the entire area to himself, drawing tremendous peace and rejuvenation from the silence and majestic beauty that surrounded him.
"My first and favorite structure is Fallen Roof Ruin. It's very abstract. I had to go four times to document it properly. Once, at Poncho House in Southern Utah, overlooking Monument Valley, I was composing an image under the focusing cloth when out of the silence came a roaring stealth, single-wing bomber 100 feet overhead."

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