A local photographer’s work blends art and conservation by examining multiple archaeological sites throughout the Southwest in the new edition of “Rock Art: A Vision of a Vanishing Cultural Landscape.”
Jonathan Bailey, 24, is a Utah native who moved to Tucson last year. He has been a photographer since he was six years old, and his images have appeared in multiple publications in the Southwest. One of Bailey’s goals is for audiences to understand the importance of protecting sacred landscapes and artifacts after viewing his work.
The newest edition of “Rock Art” features 200 photos Bailey shot of art and geological features throughout the American Southwest. Along with these pictures are 19 essays written by archeologists, anthropologists and members of native tribal councils. The book aims to serve as a “visual gallery of places worth protecting.”
In his work, Bailey often works with tribal groups. Most of the time, Bailey said he makes the initial approach but is always cautious.
“I consider how sensitive is the sight? There is a dynamic where you don’t want to suddenly increase tourism to sensitive places, but you also want people to know there is something worth protecting,” he said. “You have to make sure the publication is not damaging in any way.”
He said projects can fall though, if tribes are not comfortable with the images presented, and he prioritizes their opinions.
“The easiest thing is to constantly seek clarification,” he said. “There are frameworks by which we whittle down what is and is not acceptable. I would never show rock art from a burial or its artifacts.”
“Rock Art: A Vision of a Vanishing Cultural Landscape” first published in 2016. The second edition will publish Nov. 15 through Johnson Books.
“The book is a testimony of value,” Bailey said. “The concept behind the book is to have people from all walks of life, tribal elders, artists, archeologists.”
Bailey said politicians play a significant role in how states protect sacred sites, so he hopes his readers will vote.
“When it comes to pre-historic sites, there is a huge opportunity to see other fields through the lenses of cultures,” Bailey said. “By doing that, we can answer bigger questions like climate change and other problems.”
Bailey said the construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border is a concern for archeological sites.
“There are cultural sites along there. They are at risk of damage, or the visual landscape could be inhibited,” he said. “Sacred sites cannot be repaired or replaced.”
R.E. Burrillo, an archeologist with 10 years of experience, wrote an introduction to the book. Burrillo met Bailey doing projects in Utah and adds Bailey’s age is an advantage to his work.
“Many archeologists who have been doing it for decades, they have old ideas, methods, language that becomes a part of the day-to-day operations—it is a generational thing,” Burrillo says. “You look at the way the progressive community as a whole can be characterized. It’s always young people pushing boundaries and pushing back against old ideas.”
Burrillo added that Bailey’s demeanor helps tribes get comfortable with him so he can document sacred land and artifacts.
“He is more apt to listen than to talk,” Burrillo said. “That positions him well to move carefully and quietly and not do or say anything that might offend someone.”
In his introduction for the book, Burrillo writes: “In short, the world of ancient Southwest artwork is as diverse and complex as the worlds of the ancient Southwest artists who created it, and even the highest-caliber scientific techniques can only take us a few teasing steps toward answering questions about both.”
Bailey will discuss his new book and archeological sites on Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 6 to 7 pm. at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Archeology Southwest will host the event. Free.
Phillip Bramwell is a Univeristy of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.