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March 4, 2009 > Taking pictures with kites

Taking pictures with kites

By Dustin Findley

Charles Benton, Professor of Architecture, University of California at Berkeley, discussed and demonstrated kite aerial photography on Saturday, February 28 at the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge Education Center in Alviso.

Benton discussed the South Bay landscape and his work documenting it. He presented slides comparing old photographs and maps to the current landscape around the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge. Many areas having no solid ground except for manmade levies and railroad grade, with "trains still roaring through."

The South Bay salt ponds are in the process of being restored. "So I have been going out, under permit, and taking photographs of these ponds" Benton said.

A host of articles in the hidden ecologies blog that expand upon Benton's work in the South Bay. Google "hidden ecologies" or type in for more information.

It took Benton about 18 months to acquire the permits necessary to fly kites and photograph the wildlife refuge. "It is my experience that when you ask for permission to take photographs with kites it's often difficult because no one has a policy formulated for taking photographs with kites." So there is negotiation back and forth, demonstration of the technique, and so forth.

Jennifer Heroux, interpretive specialist for the wildlife refuge, explained that Benton had to get special permission because of the kite itself. Kite flying is prohibited on the refuge because "kites mimic the behavior and shape of raptors" which are predators of many of the birds that are seeking refuge, so kites would disturb wildlife in their natural habitat.

Benton's permit has a pond by pond calendar schedule saying when he can shoot and where.

On campus at UC Berkeley Benton doesn't ask for permission before launching kite and camera. If questioned he explains who he is and what he is doing. Very often the process fascinates people.

Benton encounters resistance on rare occasions. Most times a polite request to discontinue. Other times, such as once, in New Delhi, "a person with an M-16" convinced him he should stop, and another detained him in Egypt. Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco and Jack London Square in Oakland are some of the few places that has express rules regarding kite photography.

When photographing Benton never flies the kite above 500 feet, and never takes the camera above 400 feet because any higher and it looks like the pictures were taken from a light aircraft and they lose the charm that comes with being in the air but closer to the ground.

The small crowd joined Benton outside on the refuge as he launched. The wind was light, but strong enough to fly the 8 foot kite and camera. Benton took aerial pictures of the crowd and posted them on the "Hidden Ecologies" blog.

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