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Visually exploring significant historic industrial sites in the greater Pittsburgh area using low-altitude aerial photography.
Visually exploring significant historic industrial sites in the greater Pittsburgh area using low-altitude aerial photography.
20 backers pledged $666 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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This Funding

This funding cycle is to acquire a helicopter, specifically the Walkera Lama 3. We have finally found a solution for the bulk of the project, which will be photographed using a traditional RC airplane, and will be acquiring imagery shortly. However, many of the detail shots and panoramas require a camera platform that doesn't move much, and we've settled on the Lama 3. The funding level here is exactly what's required to get the helicopter, some spare parts, and shipping (as well as covering the fees associated with the KS project).

Project Summary

This project seeks to visually explore and document significant historic industrial sites in Western Pennsylvania. I am particularly interested in how these abandoned sites have aged since their useful days, and how structures built during the rapid expansion of industry can still be found today, woven into the landscape of new development and industry.
My ultimate goal is to foster a new understanding of our industrial heritage through aerial photography, providing new perspectives on what we see every day.

As tools for aerial photography, helicopters and airplanes suffer from similar problems-- it is rarely safe to fly them below 500 feet, especially when flying near buildings and other structures. Depending on a project's size and budget, various solutions have been utilized to acquire aerial views: Photographers from the Historic American Engineering Record, while documenting the Homestead Works, climbed the water tower to get a view from above; cherry pickers and tall ladders work for many jobs; on other jobs, carbon-fiber poles up to 40' long can be useful. To get a higher perspective, between about 50 feet and 500 feet, requires a very different kind of technology.

For two years I've been working with kite aerial photography. Invented by a Frenchman in 1885, this method has been practiced on an off for over a century, but has only really taken off with the advent of inexpensive digital cameras. The advantage of KAP lies in the ability to get very close to a structure without risking damage to the camera or the structure itself. The only equipment required is a kite and a camera, suspended a few hundred feet below the kite.

We estimate that there are about a hundred serious KAP photographers worldwide, including roughly a dozen in the San Francisco Bay Area, where my interest in KAP began. The Bay area has the perfect combination of smooth winds and open spaces to perfect the craft; Pittsburgh, however, has neither of these, particularly near the sites I am interested in studying. Between hills and power lines, a different technology is required to work here.

In California, I focused my KAP efforts on documenting the Alameda Naval Air Station, which closed in 1993. I also studied various historic buildings in the Bay Area, including a condemned World War II office building. The upper floor of this building has collapsed in a fire, and no maintenance had been done to the wooden structure in decades. The three-story structure was covered in graffiti and slated to be torn down; without the ability to photograph it form above, it would not have been documented architecturally before it was burned to the ground by vandals in early 2009. These photos are collected here.

Here in Pittsburgh, I have approximately 40 sites on my short list to study. This list was compiled largely with the help of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

The project is broken into three phases:

Phase One Continued research into these historic industrial sites, combining it with aerial surveys to assess the status and historic value of these sites. The end of this phase will whittle down the list of sites to 6 of primary interest. -- We are currently here, and about to start aerial surveys within a month or so


Phase Two I will conduct detailed surveys, including high-resolution orthoimagery of the 6 sites, as well as close-up images of industrial details not visible from the ground.


Phase Three I will compile the photos and make them available to the public in several ways. This will include mapping from the imagery collected -- comparing them to the historic plat maps -- as well as producing a photography show, a book, and a website with the images and data freely available (licensed under Creative Commons)

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    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00

    Thank you twitter post from @pgh_i_h on Twitter, and the knowledge you're supporting a great project!

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    Pledge $9 or more About $9

    A postcard from Pittsburgh, PA, and a thank you tweet from @pgh_i_h (and of course, the knowledge that you're supporting a great project!)

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    Pledge $12 or more About $12

    A thank you tweet from @pgh_i_h AND a 2.25" button that says "I helped buy a helicopter!"

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    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    A 5x7 print of any photo from the project, deliverable once the project is completed.

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    Any 5x7 print from the project, and a hand written thank you note on my airship stationery. The 5x7 print will be mailed after the project is complete, but the note immediately after the project closes, AND a 2.25" button that says "I helped buy a helicopter!"

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    If you live within Allegheny County, PA, I'll come photograph your house or business with my shiny new helicopter.

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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    If you live within 100 miles driving distance of Pittsburgh, PA, I'll come photograph your house or business with my shiny new helicopter.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    "Silver sponsorship" -- any 8x10 print of a project photo, deliverable once the project is completed, and a 115px square logo & link on the project homepage at http://pittsburgh.benpeoples.com/

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    "Gold sponsorship" -- any 8x10 print of a project photo, deliverable once the project is completed, and a 225px square logo & link on the project homepage at http://pittsburgh.benpeoples.com/ AND a signed copy of the project coffee table book.

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Funding period

- (30 days)