Mars and the Indianapolis Central Library

This story about the last photo taken by the Opportunity rover from Mars reminds me of using this same technique to photograph the main entrance of the Indianapolis Marion Country Central Library. This Mars photo is composed of 354 images.

This 360-degree panorama is composed of 354 images taken by the Opportunity rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) from May 13 through June 10, 2018, or sols (Martian days) 5,084 through 5,111. This is the last panorama Opportunity acquired before the solar-powered rover succumbed to a global Martian dust storm on the same June 10. This version of the scene is presented in approximate true color.

Opportunity Legacy Pan (True Color) March 12, 2019
Opportunity rover panorama from Mars NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

I created a similar panoramic view of the front of the Indianapolis Central Library. I wanted to photograph the new sculpture, thinmanlittlebird that was installed in 2009. I didn’t have a lens that could capture both parts of the sculpture at once. I had read about a Microsoft research project that would “stitch” individual photos together to form a composite whole. The first stitched photo is composed of 43 images. You can see thinman on the left, and littlebird on the right.

43 individual photos stitched together. Indianapolis Marion Country Central Library, 2009

This stitched image gives a better idea of how the photos are put together.

Stitched image, Indianapolis Central Library, 2009. STACKS: A History of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library By S.L. Berry with Mary Ellen Gadski

The photo above was one of a number of mine that were published in the book STACKS: A History of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library by S.L. Berry with Mary Ellen Gadski. Following is more of the story I wrote at the time.

April, 2011, the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library Foundation published the book STACKS, A History of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library.  Just before the manuscript was sent to the printer, I received an email message from the coauthor, Mary Ellen Gadski, an architectural historian.  Apparently she had been trying to contact me about using some of my photographs in the book, but had trouble finding me.  I had already given the library permission to use the photos, but she wanted to let me know about their use specifically for the book, which was a pleasant surprise for me. 

More of the story follows from a letter I wrote to Peter Shelton, the sculptor of thinmanlittlebird.

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.

Sculptured bird on littlebird

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.

I think it was brilliant to extend the height above the roofline.  After sending Randy Starks the picture below, 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.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

I sent a copy of that letter to the major donor for the sculpture, and received a very nice reply.

Dear Jeff,
Your heartfelt letters to my husband Chris and me and to Peter Shelton and your superb photos of thinmanlittlebird are treasures.  We especially appreciate you exquisite eye for framing the sculpture and building as well as the quality of light and texture you captured so well.  Thank you for sharing your marvelous talent with us.
Warm regards,

I also sent a copy of the letter to Bret Waller, head of the committee to choose the sculptor. He wrote:

Dear Jeff,
Many thanks for the disk of your great photos of thinmanlittlebird! And thanks, too, for your enthusiastic comments on the project. I’m sure Peter is delighted with both, as are we.
If you haven’t sent a disk to Ann and Chris Stack, I urge you to do so. They were major donors to the project and will be as pleased as we are to have these images that don’t just record appearances, but really interpret the sculptures.
Thanks, again, for the great images
Brett Waller


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