“The Bishop Peak Portrait Project,” digital photographic assemblage by Brian P. Lawler, depicts 365 photographs of Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo, CA, taken from March 1, 2016 to February 28, 2017. Lawler created a weatherproof box to hold a camera and batteries for this long term photographic study of Bishop Peak, San Luis Obispo’s tallest peak. He used a Canon T5 digital SLRs with 18-55 mm lenses with the focal length of 55mm and automatic exposure set to provide similar depth-of-field regardless of the time of day.
He designed the camera box in a fashion, to withstand the extreme temperatures of the outdoors and to allow the camera to capture photos all day for an entire year. In order to achieve the large volume of photos, Lawler used an electronic control that would start taking photographs before sunrise and would continue until after sunset. He set an interval of five minutes, yielding 192 photographs each day. The circuit board was powered by two supplies, a relay, a Raspberry Pi microcomputer and a small transistor circuit to control the relay. Lawler’s first version of the circuit was hand wired, however he replaced it with a “printed” circuit board that he machined on his CNC machine from a copper-clad phenolic board. He then cut away all the circuit traces and mounted the same electronic components on that board to be place it into the camera box.
Lawler designed a basic program in Python for the Raspberry Pi computer then enlisted the assistance of his friend, Eric Johnson to help with a UNIX command called CRON, that sets the starting and ending time for each day’s photographs. The computer had a battery-powered real-time clock added, and the CRON function used that to know what day and time it was. In the year-long project, the clock was off by less than three seconds.
Due to Cal Poly’s guidelines for Lawler’s project, his camera needed to be independent of all services while it was being pointed at Bishop’s Peak. Since it could not be connected to the campuses power or Internet, Lawler powered it with two motorcycle batteries, and kept the batteries charged with three small solar panels that output 30 watts of power.
Throughout the year, Lawler only changed the camera once, and the circuit board twice. The solar panels powered his project nearly flawlessly, despite a minor short in the power due to rain seeping in. However, the camera continued to run and it resulted in only partial gaps in his photographs for those few days. Once repaired, the system continued to function at full capacity for the remainder of Lawler’s project.
While the camera was running, Lawler was processing the photographs with his CNC router. He built an infrastructure to manage the photos, in order for him to cut and prepare the aluminum display panels. Lawler describes this process to be of great difficulty, due to his choice of challenging material.
At the end of 2016, Lawler hired a student, Emma Wilson, a GrC major, to help him complete his project. Wilson worked with Lawler to machine the photos and to do clean-up work on the machined aluminum panels. The two spent hours with deburring tools cleaning the edges of the mortises where the photos would go.
In January 2017, Lawler moved the panels to Cal Poly and the COSAM technicians began their work to get the panels loaded with photos and ready for install in the Baker Center. Lawler and Wilson worked alongside the technicians until the first week of March when they put the final images into panels. The project was completed on February 28, 2017.
At the end of Lawler’s study, he collected 70,000 photos of Bishop’s peak, 34,000 of which he considered meritable quality. The final series of 365 photographs were printed on aluminum using dye-sublimation on six panels and displayed at the Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics (Building 180, third floor) at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where Lawler teaches. Lawler has been a professor of Graphic Communications since 1999, as well as a Graphic Design Consultant, Photojournalist, and Typographer.
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