It seemed clear that the kite would be gone forever. The twine was caught on the tall lights over a field near the Yale Bowl and all I could think of was my last experience with kite-flying, which was unsuccessful to say the least.
But Esteban Pastorino Díaz knows how to pull strings (yes, literally). Even in Sunday’s light winds, he untangled his three-piece, troika-like kite from the halogen bulbs with enviable ease. And then he hoisted a camera up the rope and into the sky.
Pastorino is difficult to describe, not least because that is how he describes himself. At a workshop for Saybrook College students and graduate affiliates Sunday, the engineer-turned-photographer spoke of his kite-based aerial photography with unmistakable emotion.
“Putting a camera on a kite is a way of extending my eye,” said Pastorino, a native of Argentina. “Or maybe it’s just an excuse for me to fly a kite when I’m 36.”
Whatever the reason, Pastorino’s eyes do fly high — indeed, it was not for nothing that he studied structural engineering. Through a surprisingly simple system of pulleys and strings, Pastorino has sent cameras hundreds of feet into the air. And Sunday’s outing, organized by Jennifer Josten GRD ’11, was no exception.
Using a simple remote control, participants did nothing spectacular; they pointed and shot. But from such altitude, Pastorino’s handheld digital camera became both a creator of fine art and a work of art itself.
Watching the camera twist at a thumb’s command and imagining its shutter clicking yards above was fun. But looking through the pictures once the contraption had made its way back to the ground, there was no doubt that something special had happened in the air above.
There is an elevated dignity to Pastorino’s images. He acknowledges that he “can’t see what the camera’s taking,” but the photographs are still distinctly his.
Ash Anderson GRD ’11, who studies photography in the History of Art Department, said the playfulness of Pastorino’s photography reminded him of his own childhood in Vermont.
“[He] flies kites and make pictures that almost look like dollhouses,” Anderson said. “There’s something very unique there.”
Sunday’s creations — most of which portray a nearby baseball field — are strikingly human. Depicting players running on and off the diamond, they manage to illustrate the view from yards up without feeling quite aerial.
Part of this success stems from the height at which Pastorino flies his kites. Some of his most distinguished works (I am particularly fond of those that feature airplanes) confuse the viewer. It is difficult to tell whether his photographs are of real scenes or of toy settings; the kite is neither high enough up to qualify for a Google Earth-like view nor low enough to make the images feel completely concrete.
The use of a shallow depth of field helps create this confusion, as well. Playing on the way in which the human eye views scale models, Pastorino puts only the center of each image in focus, making it difficult for the viewer to discern reality from its blurred surroundings.
While Pastorino’s work may seem unusual, it is not unprecedented. As he embarks on a tour of the northeast that will include stops at Wellesley College, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Dartmouth College, the artist has obviously given thought to his practice. He called the work of Arthur Batut, a French pioneer in kite aerial photography, highly influential.
Batut’s photographs, especially those of Labruguière, a village in the South of France, have a similar sensibility to Pastorino’s. Both men seem to rise up, along with their cameras, on their kites — the images they create are too whimsical to have been taken almost at random. The viewfinder might be irrelevant, but the views are all real finds.
The baseball players photographed on Sunday would have made any Little League coach happy; they ran to and from the dugout with great élan. But there was a fourth outfielder for each team and he was running harder than anyone else on the field. Esteban Pastorino Díaz was playing in a deep, hidden left field.