A Weekend Hobby Gets Professor Benton a Bird's Eye View
by Dawn Finch
As an associate professor of architecture, Cris Benton spends much of the week with his students investigating the physical performance of buildings.
Come Sundays, however, Benton can be found at various sites around the Bay Area and beyond indulging his hobby of the moment: taking photos with a camera attached to a kite.
Although his interest in kite aerial photography began less than two years ago, Benton not only has compiled a sizable collection of photographs, he has set up a web site displaying a number of his images.
His web site gallery includes photographs of the Berkeley waterfront, marina and campus--all from a kite's eye view--plus scenes from Point Reyes National Seashore, the Marin Headlands, Santa Cruz and other sites.
He accompanies the photos with colorful descriptions and commentary, such as this musing about photographing the Campanile:
"Taking these photographs was something of a challenge. Flying kites from the hollow to the north of Doe Library is clearly more difficult than my experiences in clean, rural air. It took a bit of fussing--running, multiple tries--to get the kite above ground level turbulence."
He also was thinking of some practical issues: "One fantasizes about fouling the kite on the Campanile lantern (top). What are a steeplejack's going rates? I plan to purchase headset walkie-talkies so that my support team (his twin sons) can go stand below the camera and report relative positions."
Benton says his interest in kite aerial photography began when he was at the Berkeley waterfront one day, flying his radio-controlled sail plane, and he was approached by a women wanting to know what radio frequency he was using.
"This is a common question from one about to use a radio, but she did not appear to have an airplane in her bag," he reminisces.
What she did have in her bag was her kite-and-camera rig and some photos she had taken with it. And she was more than willing to provide a description of her hobby.
Her enthusiasm crept under Benton's skin. Kite aerial photography aligned with his long-time interests, photography and flying radio-controlled sail planes. As an architect, he's "delighted by both natural and built landscapes, so the notion of documenting the lay of the land seemed the ideal Sunday afternoon pursuit."
As he wondered how to find out more about it, his thoughts turned to the Internet--in which he also had a burgeoning interest. "Researching this esoteric topic provided an interesting test of the network's various resources," he says.
In fact, the Internet turned out to be his principal source of information about the mechanics of kite aerial photography. In the ensuing months, many of his questions were answered by a kite discussion group on the net.
In a sense, Benton has paid back his indebtedness to the Internet with his own web pages. For someone interested in kite aerial photography, Benton's pages offer a wealth of information.
In addition to his gallery, he provides technical and equipment information, historical information, a list of resources, introductions to other kite aerial photographers--and, for those who are interested, a few pages of information about his architectural work, with links to his Vital Signs Curriculum Materials Project and his work with PG&E's Advanced Customer Technology Transfer Project.
But that's another story.