thinmanlittlebird Installation

(Reorganizing photos recently, I came across this slideshow I had put together related to the installation of the thinmanlittlebird sculpture)

On March 22, 2009, the thinmanlittlebird sculpture was installed on the front of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library.  When the original Paul Cret building was constructed in 1917, two pedestals were built, with the idea that statues would be placed on them.  But the money never materialized.

Then Chris and Ann Stack became interested in the idea of art for the pedestals.  A committee lead by the Director Emeritus of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Bret Waller, selected sculptor Peter Shelton for the project.
One of the challenges was related to the construction of the building, which did not contain steel beams to anchor the sculptures.  Peter Shelton worked with an engineering firm to install steel beams from the roof into the ground, designed to make the sculptures withstand wind gusts and earth tremors.
I wasn’t aware that sculptures were to going to be installed, so it was by chance that, as I left the apartment that morning, I noticed the street blocked off in front of the library, and a truck tractor trailer and crane in the street.  I found that littlebird had already been installed.  The steel frame that protected littleman was being removed when I arrived.

Movie of the installation of thinman

In the process of lifting thinman into place, the crane accidentally hit the right arm.  Peter Shelton was prepared, and repaired the damage.

Also at the installation were the major donors mentioned previously, Chris and Ann Stack.  I sent the following letter and DVD of photos of the thinmanlittlebird installation to them, Bret Waller, and Peter Shelton.
Dear Peter Shelton,
I had the pleasure of meeting you, briefly, during the installation of thinmanlittlebird, where I was taking pictures of the process.   I have found thinmanlittlebird to be a fascinating subject, photographically.  While I took the photos on the enclosed DVD for my pleasure, I’m offering you copies, hoping you might enjoy some of them.  If you have any use for any of them, you have my permission to use them.   They are also a token of my appreciation of your work, and thanks.
The rest of this is my meandering thoughts, which you can, of course, ignore.
As the photos attest, I’ve spent a LOT of time with thinmanlittlebird, trying to use different lighting and weather conditions to provide different views of it/them (I tend to think of them separately).  When other people are around, I enjoy observing how they look at them, and what they say, and I’m glad the comments I’ve heard have all been positive, or at least questioning.   Some people ask me if I like them, and when I say I do, they then relate that they do, too.  Most often, I overhear kids ask their parents if the bird is real, and, more often than not, the parents say, yes (which supports my view that kids are more observant and curious than adults.  My work as a respiratory therapist at the local children’s hospital goes along with that).  Sometimes I’m asked why the bird is there, and I relate your story that birds will visit littlebird, so you thought you’d beat them to it, which everyone enjoys.   I relayed that to Randy Starks, at the library, and included my observation that the funny thing was that I have yet to see a bird land on littlebird, and he had the same experience.  I do often see birds peering over the roof at it.  I’ve heard littlebird described as a doughnut, a chocolate doughnut, a bagel and a flying saucer.  thinman is either referred to as a man or an alien.
One of the challenges is fitting both pieces into a single picture.  The picture below accompanied one of the NUVO magazine articles about thinmanlittlebird.  It is a composite of 43 individual pictures.  As a black and white photographer from the old days, I really appreciate the contrast of the black finish of thinmanlittlebird against the granite background.
I must admit that littlebird has been a source of significant frustration.  I don’t, yet, have a long enough lens to get good close-ups of the bird, itself, which may be a good thing, because it has forced me to try to deal with littlebird as a whole.  The camera sometimes has trouble focusing on all the black, so I often have to manually focus.  The lighting contrast with the surroundings also makes it very difficult to capture detail without blanching out the surroundings.  And the symmetry makes it difficult to get a “different” look even when shooting from different angles.  I was hoping night shots might help, but they are even more problematic.  You may notice a number of photos taken in the rain—I had hoped that would help, both with additional texture on the surface and with less contrast with the surrounding light, but the results aren’t dramatically different.  I’ve deleted far more pictures of littlebird than of anything else I’ve ever done.  But in some ways that makes the few pictures I end up saving more rewarding than usual.  So, thank you for the challenge (and the frustration, not so much).
thinman has been a lot more “fun”.  Just the opposite of littlebird, different angles give totally different views.   It’s almost as if the “legs/arms” move as the camera changes position, and seem to twist themselves differently, even though that’s impossible.  I almost think of thinman as alive, sometimes.  When the light is right, the shadows it throws  against the granite wall are very interesting.
The installation of thinmanlittlebird was one of the most memorable days of my life.  I was very impressed with the grace with which you handled the accident with thinman’s arm.
Jeff Kisling


This is the photo referred to above, a mosaic of 43 individual photographs.


I think it was brilliant to extend the height above the roofline.  After sending Randy Starks the picture above, he wrote:  Thanks — that last one looks as if it could have been a frame from Blade Runner!  Glad to see that thinman is still standing guard.

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