Scholars' Lab Uses Aerial Photography to Document Parking Lot's Artful Transformation

July 30, 2012

Staff in the University of Virginia's Scholars' Lab have applied their do-it-yourself aerial photography skills to document a studio art professor's project transforming a suburban parking lot into a subtle mural visible from the sky.

Megan Marlatt, a professor in the College of Arts & Sciences, worked with students to install a large painting on a parking lot on the southwest corner of U.S. 29 and Westfield Road.

The painting, titled "Hello Pluto, Good-bye Kitty," is based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Black Cat," and is made up of hundreds of painted, one-eyed black cats on the asphalt. The individual cat paintings form a single image when viewed from above.

Kelly Johnston and Chris Gist, GIS specialists in the Scholars' Lab, held a series of seminars this year demonstrating the capabilities of a do-it-yourself aerial photography kit. The kit essentially consists of a digital camera attached to an orange weather balloon and about 1,000 feet of deployable tether. Users can float the balloon with the camera – set to take photos every few seconds – as a simpler and cheaper alternative to photos taken from an airplane.

As Marlatt's mural was fully visible only from the sky, it made for a good demonstration of the kit's use.

On Friday, Johnston posted a blog entry with photos documenting the art project, including a picture of the mural in progress and shots of the finished product.

"This project illustrates some of the benefits of do-it-yourself aerial photography," he wrote. "With a small investment of equipment and time, we collected high-resolution imagery to document change over time for a discrete study area.

"We see applications for these techniques across many academic disciplines. So we're working now to fine-tune our approaches while we collaborate with faculty and students."

The same group took aerial photos of the Rally for Honor in June.

– by Rob Seal