Friday, February 19, 2016

Cartography

Centuries, ago, explorers and cartographers came up with methods and ideas of how to map the world all from the ground, and their resultant world maps, hand-drawn, are pretty close to how the world actually looks. Obviously the continents are way out of proportion and extremely different - but the main thing is that they are actually still recognizable as North America, Africa, etc.

Errors remained right up until the first half of the 20th century, at which point vertical aerial photography, which was developed and refined along with flight itself - helped largely fix the worse errors altogether. Satellite imagery was probably the perfection of any remaining, slight inaccuracies. Interestingly for me, in terms of fixing the Canadian map, most of this was carried out at an air station called Rockcliffe, in service of the Canadian Military. The base was largely used for testing from the 1920s through to the 1950s, mostly of aerial photography techniques, and in developing a program that went on to map the entirety of the country though aerial 'mosaics,' as in vertical aerial photos stitched together to create a land map. Rockcliffe is east of Ottawa; the city served as the subject of the first trials of this new kind of straight-down photography starting in the 1920s.

Today, Rockcliffe is just a single runway field owned by the Aviation Museum, and home to the Rockcliffe Flying Club. I go there once every two weeks or so, in pursuit of my pilot's license, in pursuit of doing my own aerial photography of the same kind, of the same city that is perhaps the most-photographed city of all time in the country thanks to its proximity to the former air station, its seat of government, and its home to government departments such as the Geomatics Division, Remote Sensing, and National Air Photo Library - where all of these vertical (and oblique) images are stored altogether, in one central location.

In learning all of this, it occurred to me that I was born with the right interests in the right city at the right time with perfect access to fuelling every aspect of this passion from buying images taken nearly every year since 1928 to learning to do it myself.

Meanwhile, virtually all of my former Photography classmates had to migrate to Toronto or elsewhere to earn significantly from their lens-based interests.

I wanted to exemplify my own cartographic development in one example. I started by mentioning cartographers' ideas of how the continents looked from space. Ever since I was a kid with an age in the single digits, I imagined how things looked like from above. In third grade, riding the school bus with my best friend, I developed an idea in my head of how his neighbouring streets and neighbourhood in Fisher Glen were laid out from above because the bus drove down nearly all of them every afternoon after school. It ended up resembling something like the outline of an old-style mailbox:
Admittedly, I could never find these drawings again after so many years, so I just redrew what I "knew" it to look like from memory.

Like the original cartographers, I was wrong but not so hopelessly off that it didn't look recognizable. It's way out of proportion, obviously. The round bend up top isn't round in real life but straight with several abrupt corners not quite 90 degrees that make it loop around. The square at the bottom is a much larger, long rectangle and there are no 90 degree bends except in a couple of places. The map, like other people such as my mother who told me so, visually proved me wrong.

Also redrawn from memory. How the map portrayed the streets. Much closer to accurate.

The really neat thing about this that I find just terrific is that, unlike the original cartographers but like the technological advances, I actually got up and flew over, seeing the layout of the neighbourhood with my own eyes, actually seeing it from above instead of merely imagining it as I had done since I was eight or so. Maybe the map painted it for me properly, but a map is just another drawing, albeit printed from a computer and coloured.
The streets are at the bottom, middle left of the image. Screenshot from yesterday.
Obviously developers will lay out generally streamlined street patterns. Captured July 3rd, 2015.

It kind of goes to show the progression of a focus in time, how as a child I was fixated on the aerial perspective and today I'm actually getting up there to record it proper. And the map, at least in terms of the MapArt books I used to stare at for hours, wasn't perfect. It made those streets too rounded in their corners; my imagination-based rendition was the extreme of that. The map just made them less exaggerated while retaining them. My only real mistakes were making a right angle at the bottom right of the rectangle when it should have been a gentle curve, and connecting the end of that street north of the little one that forms the top of the tiny square block I drew. The rest are proportion-based errors.

I'm getting slowly better at my capturing techniques. I took some aerial photos yesterday after my flight to Ottawa airport. I found out my 24-105mm lens will zoom out on its own when pointed downwards out the window, in the rushing air. I also had lens contact errors for the first time. Next time I'm using my 50mm - a prime lens that isn't too telephoto and not too wide-angle for my purposes. We were only 1500 feet. At 105mm, at the max resolution of the image, you could see someone's individual legs in one photo, standing beneath an overhang.

I will post the video sooner or later. Circuits around runway 22 at Ottawa International.

Red Cloud
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