Rooftop Movies Solargraphs

 In February 2024, I started a photographic art project with the help of Artrage and Rooftop Movies here in Perth.

But let's start at the beginning. The first thing is that this is all about a very niche form of photography called "solargraphy". You can read all about the process itself here, so I won't repeat it. 

When Rooftop Movies started their 2023/24 season, I went to the opening night, and as I looked around the outdoor cinema they had set up on the top floor of the Roe St carpark, it occurred to me that there was some great potential for solargraphy. Figuring  it never hurts to ask, I sent Artrage (Rooftop Movies is an Artrage project) an email. 

And then I forgot about it. Little things like work, a couple of bouts of minor surgery, and other photographic projects were more than enough to keep me busy. 

Roll forward to February and, to my surprise, I get an email from the Projects Manager at Artrage, asking if it was too late to start the solargraphs. As it had turned out, we had booked to see a movie that weekend, so I replied that it was not, and that we could set up that weekend.

Sunday February 11th. Setup day.

Rob records one of the camera installations.

Leece and I rocked up nice and early, and met the Venue Manager, who had been warned to expect us. He made us welcome, showed us around, made sure we did not need anything, and left us to it. 

So the two of us installed a mix of different types solargraphy cameras. We installed several Solarcan Puck cameras, which expose in a very short time, a commercial Solarcan, and a number of home-brew can-cameras. 

A commercial Solarcan
Two home-brew can cameras and a Puck

That evening, after the movie finished, we brought down one of the Solarcan Puck cameras, just to check and to offer up a bit of instant gratification.
A few short hours...

As a proof of concept, this looked very promising, so we arranged to return after two weeks, as we had set many of the cameras in pairs.

February 25 - First pickup.

On this visit we collected half of the can cameras and all but one of the Puck cameras.

Let's look at Puck images first.

The view South East
North facing
Looking South

All of these are nice clean images - but where are the sun trails? The South facing one I had hoped for reflections off the tall buildings of Perth, but no such luck. The South East view was also likely to be a wash, but was good for checking the alignment of the cans. And the North one? The angle of the sun was too high for the Puck to pick up - in Perth anything before the Vernal Equinox is going to be too steep for the 70-odd degree upward view of the Puck cameras.  The last Puck I did not collect on this trip. That was the one facing West.

Moving on to the cans. These are all home-brew or reloaded Solarcans. Sadly one of them was damaged, and unusable - I suspect the local waardong (raven) population. 

East facing
This one was the greatest disappointment. We got a small sun trace, but for some reason the rest of the image was completely blown out. A failure, but at least there is something.

As expected from a South view, there are no sun traces - not even reflections, but there is something odd going on with this reloaded Solarcan. There is this odd vertical zone of greater exposure. What is going on? Still, we can see the signage, the movie screen, and the skyline behind. 

North facing from a security light

The North view is the real star of this set - this is looking towards the projection booth, and the giant mirror-ball on the top of it. And the sun trails! This version is mirrored, so you are seeing the rising sun progressing lower and lower in the sky over the two weeks. The other trails are internal reflections. It is spooky and mysterious, and I love it.

So that was after two weeks. What would six bring?

What four weeks brought was another movie for us, so after the show we collected the paper from the last Puck - the one facing West - and reloaded it.

Sadly my clumsy handing resulted almost all of the detail being lost to fogging - but it gave me a hint of what to expect.
Badly fogged - but so much promise!

Six Weeks - March 24th - Final collection.

March 24 saw the last film of the 2023/24 season. Rooftop Movies will continue for several more weeks, but will be hosting encore productions of various Fringeworld shows. This requires a rearranging of the area, so this was the end of the exposures for this season.

South Facing
Remember that odd vertical exposure in this southern view from the first collection? It has been reinforced, and while we still do not have any sun traces - wow! We have the signage, movie screen, and skyline like before, but from somewhere Perth has acquired a huge arcology or perhaps an orbital elevator! Unfortunately there has been a little shifting of the camera, so there is some blurring, but this is stunningly dramatic all the same.

One other weird aspect to this one - see the screen? It is black. Look back up at the two week image - it is white. 

Here is the same shot, without the colours inverted - i.e. this should be a negative.

South facing, original colours (negative)

And yet it is a positive image. What on earth has happened here? I have absolutely no explanation!

North facing near the bar
This one is looking North from just in front of the bar. Some great sun trails, but this one was also visited by the local waardong (raven) population, and we lost the detail of the bar. The result is ghostly and moody. I think it has potential as a record cover!

North from the gantry support
If you look closely in the background of this northerly view, you can see the Rooftop Movies sign. The star here, though, is the mirror-ball. Intriguing. 

North facing from the security light
The negative of this north facing camera mounted on the pole of a security light got a little damaged, and there is some movement, but it is so imposingly dramatic. There are reflections of the sun on the mirror ball! Powerful sun trails! 

West Facing - two weeks
Remembering my clumsiness from the previous negative, I took extra care with this, and what a payoff! Incredible detail, and so much going on, even without the katana blade of the sun's passage! Reflections! A crane blocking part of the bottom of the sun path! 

Lastly there is the Solarcan that I rigged facing West.

West Facing
This one just blew us away! The intense colours of the Solarcan Aurora paper, the internal reflections of the sun trails, even the ghostly Rooftop Movies sign! If this had been the only usable image, I would have been happy.

So there you have it. A six week long experiment. During this time I also had small stickers set up beneath each camera with a QR code linking to my Solargraphy page.

Page hits over three months for the Solargraphy page

On the day of installation there was a distinct spike, followed by a couple of weeks of higher than usual traffic, before dropping off again. This strongly suggests that Rooftop Movies has a lot of repeat patronage, and the people that noticed the QR codes and/or the cameras did so fairly quickly. 

What next? I hope to repeat this next year with even longer exposures. I'll use firmer mountings, and better protection against the local wildlife. And I will definitely invest in some more Solarcan Colour units, and try out some East facing Pucks. 

Many thanks to the team at Rooftop Movies and Artrage for making this possible. 

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of Borloo, the land that I completed this project on, the Whadjuk Noongar people. I pay my respects to their Elders - past, present, and emerging.


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