Aerial Photography and Visualisation for Built Heritage - PhD Portfolio by Kieran Baxter
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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Above the Tay and other landscapes / latitudes

2016 started for me with a solo exhibition of aerial photographs hosted at the Discovery Point Cafe at the RSS Discovery in Dundee. The title "Above the Tay" related to a rather broad geographical area spanning from the Angus Glens in the north as far as Loch Leven in the south, with a particular concentration around my home turf of Dundee and St Andrews.

My "Above the Tay" exhibition at Discovery Point, Dundee.
The exhibition featured a combination of low level kite photographs and higher altitude images taken from light aircraft. It was a welcome break from the focus of my research work to compile the images around the loose constraints of the varied landscape that surrounds the Tay Estuary.

Some of the aerial photographs in the exhibition.
It was particularly satisfying to put the images on display at the fantastic Discovery Point at the epicentre of this geographical area and next door to the historic RSS Discovery, which featured in one of the aerial photographs.

The RSS Discovery and Discovery Point, Dundee. Kite Aerial Photograph.
Also included were some wider landscape shots taken from higher altitude from light aircraft. I have usually focussed on built heritage in my photography so working at a landscape scale presented some novel challenges for me. Directing the position of the aircraft is always tricky (more for the pilot) but at higher altitude there are also atmospheric and weather conditions to contend with. While we were photographing Clen Clova (below) we wanted to be pretty much at cloud level, so breaks in visibility like this one above Loch Brandy were down to good luck.

Loch Brandy with Glen Clova behind. Aerial photograph.
The forces that have created these larger landscape are breathtaking. The corrie that Loch Brandy sits in was formed by glacial ice spilling from the higher ground and gouging out the rock en route to what would later become Glen Clova. It's difficult to get a sense of the scale here but just left of centre frame you can see the popular walking path leading from Loch Brandy to the Glen Clova Hotel and climbers bar.

Skaftafellsjökull glacier, South Iceland. Aerial photograph.
In May this year I arranged another light aircraft flight at a different latitude, this time above the Vatnajökull ice cap in Iceland. Here we can see the same forces at work but in the present day. The glacier pictured above is Skaftafellsjökull, which runs from the Vatnajökull ice sheet down to Skaftafell and the gravel airstrip that we took off from. I've wanted to fly above Skaftafellsjökull since hiking around the lower regions in 2007 so this was a special experience, almost 10 years later! I'm already looking forward to returning to these landscapes and latitudes in future.

Shetland Revisited

When I have time for writing at the moment usually goes towards my thesis, which might go some way to excuse why I haven't posted on here for over a year, that and the fact that it's a been a very busy year. I now feel as if I should document some of that busyness here for prosperity. Perhaps this is a better way to use my blog anyway - some kind of annual review!

Last summer I happily spent a fair amount of time in Shetland, where I did my MSc project, this time gathering some new aerial photographs of Historic Environment Scotland properties as well as taking some time out. As always the stunning scenery and archaeology was complimented by the friendly personalities and good coffee (as evidenced above). I also did some photography with my Allsopp Helikite (above, bottom right), a kind of kite / helium balloon hybrid, which makes a very reliable aerial platform and always attracts the curiosity of passers by.

I also got the chance to return to Jarlshof, the fantastic multi-phase prehistoric settlement that formed the basis of my MSc project. The short film that I produced, which tells the story of Jarlshof using 3D animation based on low aerial photography, is now on display in the on-site museum run by Historic Environment Scotland (above, top left). It was great to explore the labyrinthine settlement remains up close again. This time my only aerial view of the site was from the window of my inbound flight as we landed at Sumburgh (above, top right). Aerial photography so close to an active runway is by permission only! My short animated film "Jarlshof" is viewable online here.

As well as the focus of previous fieldwork it was great to be able to explore the wider Shetland archipelago. There is a lot to see here from some of the lesser known prehistoric sites to cliffs bustling with birdlife. There is always more to come back to!