For the last 2 years or so I have been developing a photographic technique which is at once exciting and dumb. Why dumb? Because this is photography where the camera (and the very best camera I can find at that!) is dangled from a string below a kite in the hope of getting a sharp focussed image of the scene below. Exciting? Certainly, I never tire of the thrill of seeing world from on high. So why all the fuss, this is a pastime with all the frustration of waiting for the weather, radio control of things which aren’t really designed to be and a tendency to produce bucket loads of poor images of not quite what was wanted.
Today I got an email from a good friend who wanted to thank me for ‘exposing ‘ them to KAP and attached to it was this exquiste shot: taking a camera out on a kite makes photography so much more astonishing; there is a hint of discovery and surprise with every shot! (with thanks to Rand Eppich)
The world as seen from around 60m up is a very interesting place, everything we are familiar with is there but at a scale with which we are very unfamiliar; you can see my car at the foot of the tower and you can see the apex of the antenna 60m above it! This juxtaposition of the ordinary in an extraordinary context is what makes KAP what it is: human scale seen from a non-human view point! This doesn’t happen with standard aerial photography as the resolution rarely resolves the nuts and bolts of every day life. We are getting used to seeing the world from 500m in Google Earth and finding it never quite shows us the detail we know to be there at the scale we live in. KAP shows the world at a distance close to our imagined eye.
This is one of the most viewed images on my photostream. (well almost, trains and equipment take the lead, sigh!) I believe this is because it represents what most people recall seeing when they pass the monument on the A11 even though this cannot be the case. In this shot you see the road and the monument as you imagine you saw them as you drove past at 60mph. You can place yourself in the scene because your perception of it is composed of many recalled images of passing through it. By simply raising the camera to where you have looked up to in passing by the image becomes close to the visual template of your experience of the monument.
This is an evening shot of the Northern edge of Romsey town. I used a 50mm equivalent lens. I was trying to make a pattern of the shapes as the light faded. It reminds me of a bomb aimers view. We are familiar with the ‘surveillance’ view of the world we live in from media relay of helicopter footage, it is almost standard practice now for a major news story to launch a chopper over what ever scene can be deemed appropriate; I was amazed the 2010 general election fiasco was covered on TV by background footage of Westminster from 300m. It was as if the media ‘over view’ need a physical reminder of its omnipotence. At 60m the viewer can be just as voyeuristic as the helicopter mounted camera.
KAP has produced a genre of low level nadir imagery that began with Athur Batut in the 1890s and continues to be one of the most satisfying and sometimes difficult shots to achieve. http://arch.ced.berkeley.edu/kap/background/history1.html
Nadir shots can remove buildings from their context and make them appear as isolated objects, they can ‘amplify’ the form of architecture. A nadir shot can get close to realising the plan of a building and thus the design intent.
Texture and pattern is a recurring theme in KAP for some interesting perceptual reasons. A view from above can cause a degree of abstraction or at least disorientation. Even at a modest height the world can look very different from our view on the ground. This shot was taken at less than 30m AGL and has captured surface features absent from shots taken higher up. The action of ants has produced a series of sand hillocks evenly distributed across the wind blown sand cover, the track ways of animals and humans are visible and there is just enough shadow to reveal the pitted nature of the surface. Just enough height can be all that’s needed!
Contrasts in texture happen a lot with KAP and when they are balanced the effect is a kind of abstraction which reveals the world in a new way.
So to answer the question in the title I have to say: for me KAP is very good for surprise, a new sense of scale, place, abstraction and, of course, it is a great way of getting a lot out of flying a kite!
I am thankful for all the help that has been generously offered to me in getting my KAP work off the ground, in particular to Clive Hollins who has never tired of the pursuit of the ‘golden shot’!
Another gem from the discard pile!