I have had it in mind to photograph the Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda ever since I saw it in passing walking the Ouse Valley Way. It’s a wonderful structure, one of 80 worldwide (of which 3 are in Britain) built by Nichidatsu Fujii (1885–1985), a Buddhist monk from Japan and founder of the Nipponzan-Myōhōji Buddhist Order. The Pagodas are built for reflection on world peace in reaction to the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda was completed in 1980 at the western edge of Willen lake, Milton Keynes. This was the first Peace Pagoda in the western world.
I figured this would be a walk in the park, particularly the nadir shot. How wrong I was. I have just taken delivery of Chrisoph Fokken’s Levitaion ‘Light’ delta and have discovered (as other Kappers have) the wing spars can shake out of their pockets just by the natural vibration of the kite as the ‘Light’ version uses a 5mm carbon spar fitted in a pocket designed for a 8mm fiberglass one, it’s a loose fit and I was appalled to see the spar ends poking out when I hauled it down after 40mins over the flooded washes. I followed the advice on the KAP forum and stitched a dart into the pocket. I have tested this with an unloaded kite and it works fine so I was keen to see what Christoph’s Light version would bring to a simple KAP mission. The wind was light at ground level so I figured this is a perfect opportunity to try it.
The Light is noisier than the heavy. Not sure why, the sail is a different fabric, a crunchy ripstop. The kite left my hand easily, steadying after some wild ground swings. Once in the clean air I attached what would be the first of 3 cameras to the line. I have found if there is a good clear downwind window the Levitation can manage 2 rigs happily and the Light pulls just as well as the heavy so I hitched on my ‘top’ rig; a light picavet fixed tilt pano rig. Today it was loaded with the EosM. If nothing else worked I’d get some panoramic material to take home.
With the pano rig aloft I prepared the RC rig for the key shot of the day: the nadir of the golden finial glinting in the winter sun. I have been waiting for this moment for a while and sure enough it was magical to be at eye level with the gold finial, keeping the kite low I took my time, it’s far too easy to let the kite go and miss the low level viewpoint …
..and, after about 5 minutes of careful line spooling the battery on the rig failed, the video blacked out and the rig would not respond to RC. No problem I carry a spare. A quick walk down the line, replace battery and off we go…and in less than 5 minutes that battery too gasped its last!
Another walk down and by swapping things around I got power to the servos without video relay. I returned to the pagoda and shot blind as best I could but I found the line jangly and soon tired of the hop and run I needed to keep up to keep the rig over the top of the building so I decided to deploy the 3rd camera of the day and hope for the best. I have fitted a cPP controlled autorig with an Olympus EP1 to take advantage of its surefire AF and rapid shot to shot performance. I hadn’t expected to use it but I figured it might be worth a go.
And so at last, having dispensed with radio altogether, me, the camera and kite became one and I gently walked the line over the Pagoda and took the closest to nadir shot I could get. It’s pretty close:
I did not capture all the symmetry I set out to but the shots from the cPP rig really capture the sense of place. I was able to move the rig over the subject and wait for the 5 shot sequence to complete before moving again to align the next pan step. A technique that needs a wide open space to adopt.
And the first camera, the brave little EosM which had been bouncing around on its picavet until its battery too failed, what did it capture?
The card has 10Gb of data on it, I now think its a bit of a mistake to send an 18 megapixel camera up there to fill up its SD card: doing the sift is a slow, disk hungry business. I don’t expect too much as it was a long way off for most of the time it was up there. Flying 2 rigs on the line flattens the angle of the flying line a great deal so, despite paying out a fair amount, the combined mass of 1.5kg needs a lot of downwind space to hang in. Almost all the images are blurred, but every 30 frames a high level view shows the Pagoda and its shadow nicely. The lack of image stabilisation on the EosM meant very few exposures were sharp until the stronger midday sunlight towards the end of the flight.
I spent 2 hours, between 10 and noon, getting to know the new kite (it’s much harsher than its heavier sister – because the carbon is much stiffer than the glassfibre- I shall reserve its use for much lighter winds than the 9-10mph I flew in today) and I shall return to this peaceful spot.. with batteries!