Snapshots of Time

The holidays came early for me, and with magnificent gifts. This week I gathered up a dozen small aluminum containers from around the community, some of which had been in place since June of this year. I eagerly brought the containers home, giddy with anticipation, and I quickly cut open the sealed top and pulled out the unique contents of each one. With a smile on my face, I immediately imaged the windfall.

Near the December solstice I had just recovered most of the Anniversary Solargraphs that had been set up in celebration of the 2016 Indiana Bicentennial. Each 16-ounce aluminum can was lined with a 5x7-inch piece of black and white photographic paper, and a tiny hole on the side allowed light to enter the can and strike the emulsion side of the paper. For several months the pinhole cameras had been capturing photons of the sun as it arced across the sky. The resulting images varied from merely original to outright stunning.

Building 84

The former Studebaker Building 84 in South Bend, IN, is one example of time and place in transition. Once a powerhouse of the region, where automobiles rolling off the assembly line sustained Hoosier families for many years, the behemoth went silent and remained dormant for many more years. Today, in a resurgent Renaissance District, the building's renovation exemplifies a dynamic community bringing back energy and fresh growth. It is one snapshot of Indiana during the state's 200th birthday.

The images of Building 84 were taken from Union Station, with the solargraph in place for six months between the solstices, including through the December 11 statehood day. Compare the solargraph to the panorama image taken with a cell phone camera and you'll see why my giddiness was merited. Meanwhile, solargraph cans that had been secured atop Building 84 itself had been blown away by the high winds found there. Next time use more duct tape.

History Museum

A bicentennial celebration is like a bookend for two centuries of history, so the History Museum in South Bend was the site of another pinhole camera. Of three solargraphs mounted on the campus, one mounted vertically on the flagpole of the John D. Oliver Mansion imaged the historic house Copshaholm.

Dominating the background of the image is the path of the sun over six months, with its incomplete arcs bearing witness to cloudy and partly cloudy days. If you're planning an outdoor event and a curmudgeon tells you, "Oh, it's always cloudy here," don't believe them. Believe your eyes instead.

From a high at the June solstice to a low at the December solstice, there's still plenty of sun to tap. The solargraph images should be incentive to embrace solar energy in the next 200 years. Don't delay; start now. As nuclear astrophysicist Dr. Micha Kilburn succinctly stated, "Here's this big thing and we can get energy from it."

Bendix Woods

A third group of solargraphs at Bendix Woods County Park were mounted along the route of the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay. When the photographic paper comes out of the can, it appears in sepia tones. A quick glance reveals the obvious arc of the blazing sun, but the subtleties like foreground images--taking shape on the paper by their reflected light as opposed to direct sunlight--are less distinct. Here you can vaguely see the Nature Center beyond the flagpole, flanked by trees.

Once the paper is upright and scanned, you have to flip the digital image horizontally and invert the colors. Voilà! A more recognizable version of the subject emerges.

Compare the solargraph to a regular photograph. This was the only Anniversary Solargraph can mounted low to the ground. You can see the can taped to the base of the flagpole light, with its pinhole just barely above the snowline. A few months earlier, the Torch Relay looped around this site.

Prairie Vista

I've stated before that if we want a culture that embraces solar energy, we need to be informed about and familiar with the sun. Attaining that comfort level starts with education, and science education begins with observation. At Prairie Vista Elementary School in Granger, IN, students ran around the school grounds during class time to set up a slew of cans on October 27. Though the exposure time was less, the results still yielded exclamations when students and teachers gathered with me on the December solstice itself to observe their handiwork.

Science experiments, including those done for science fairs, require the scientist to come up with an answerable question. The students will soon begin a new run of solargraphs on school grounds to capture the sun's motion through the rest of the school year. What question(s) can be answered by a solargraph? They proposed several valid hypotheses to test. The youths will be the ones who have the answers from their own data, not data handed down from some outside influencer. I look forward to revisiting them as summer approaches.

St. Pius X

Even solargraphs deemed less successful because of the low quality foreground image yielded delight for their solar imagery. For a different twist, we placed a can facing east overlooking St. Pius X Catholic Church in Granger, IN. The rising sun clearly covers a wide swath of the eastern horizon through the months, then seems to converge on the westerly side in this strangely distorted projection.

Meanwhile, in the foreground a new church silently rises to support worshipers in the next decades in Indiana. The solargraph is again a time stamp of activity within the state on its 200th birthday.

Most of the Anniversary Solargraph cans were mounted vertically, but we experimented with a few and placed them horizontally. Each horizontal one had intriguing solar arcs over an indistinct landscape, such as this one at St. Pius X. Buried within is latent and untold information, distorted in some ways but equally valid. The unfamiliar image is not any less valuable, just different. Kinda like people.

JMS Building

I removed two solargraphs from their respective perches prior to the December solstice, when the sun reaches its southernmost point on the eastern and western horizons. Cans atop the JMS Building in downtown South Bend, IN, were in the midst of a reconstruction projection for as long as possible, courtesy of the building management and construction supervisor.

Four Winds Field

A cluster of cans around Four Winds Field in South Bend, IN, were well positioned to image the friendly environs of the Midwest League's farm team for the Chicago Cubs. When the Cubs won the 2016 World Series--well, it seemed like time and the sun itself must have stopped in their tracks. That historic event merited a unique celebration itself, so I recovered a solargraph can during the fan celebration at the ballpark.

Sunprint Version

At a 2016 planetarium conference, colleague John French introduced me to Sunprint® kits, which are sometimes sold in museum and planetarium gift shops. Without my going into details, the Sunprint® paper reacts to the sun akin to photographic paper, but in a different way. Look it up if you want details. Anyhow, I tried Sunprint® paper inside a solargraph can to see if it would at least yield a solar arc. Experimenting. I was concerned days of sunlight would overexpose the paper, but to my surprise it worked. Next I want to try Sunprint® with a larger hole on the side of the can, then perhaps use a sheet of Sunprint® paper to capture the path of the sun during the 2017 solar eclipse.

Supporters of the Anniversary Solargraph Project

I thank the Indiana Bicentennial Commission for deeming Anniversary Solargraph an Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project. That affirmation has inspired me to continue sharing the solargraph technique as a means to get to know and understand the sun.

Thanks go to each of the sites and persons who hosted solargraphs so willingly. Each one, without exception, was welcoming and supportive of the Indiana Bicentennial celebration. I look forward to retrieving more of the cans that individuals have mounted at their respective homes and neighborhoods.

Ball Corporation of Monticello, IN, donated new clean cans with safe edges, which greatly facilitated the basement closet assembly of solargraphs. I hope to move forward with more groups and more students because of Ball Corporation's generosity.

For more blog posts about Anniversary Solargraphs, see articles tagged "solargraph".

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