2022 Retrospective: Infrared Art and Architecture #4

February 9, 2023  |  La Crosse, Wisconsin

Riverside Eagle Landmark Sculpture: "Protecting the Catch" in La Crosse, Wisconsin. October 2022

Category: Infrared Art and Architecture

infrared, la crosse, wisconsin, hixon, grandad bluff, ellen hixon, bafa, art

The Subject

I am of the school that the vast majority of public art contributes to human flourishing. It is food for the soul - especially the creative soul.

The way I approach photography has been shaped by talking to and viewing the work of creatives across a wide variety human endeavors. This article is about what may be the largest single piece of public art in the La Crosse area - The Eagle Landmark in Riverside Park.

Since 1987 the Eagle Landmark has towered above the Mississippi River near the levee at the end of State Street in Riverside Park. It welcomes visitors to our fair city and is a familiar feathered friend to residents of La Crosse.

The original sculpture was designed and constructed by celebrated regional artist Elmer Petersen. (Elmer is also the creator of the World's Largest Buffalo!) The eagle was removed in 2020 to assess the effects of weathering on certain components, and to develop a strategy for restoration. The landmark was completely recreated by Elmer Petersen collaborator, artist, and local custom metal fabricator Al Schulz. This magnificent new bird and its lofty perch were installed in June of 2022. I like to call this new version as "Almer's Eagle".

The Composition

On this particular overcast afternoon I was out and about shooting infrared images of some downtown La Crosse buildings. While shooting the Funke building I noticed that the clouds were creating a pleasant textured backdrop - kind of like a textured muslin studio backdrop. Running with that idea, I spent some time walking around the Riverside Eagle, waiting for pauses in the traffic and trying to get a good shot of the eagle against that backdrop. Nothing was really working for me until I noticed a group of seagulls wheeling around - getting closer to shore. I scooted to one side of the sculpture, hoping to get some shots of the eagle hovering over its catch with the gulls circling overhead.

Most folks I have talked to do not realize that the eagle in the sculpture is hovering over its catch. What I learned from talking to Al Schultz, looking closely at the sculpture itself on previous outings and observing the riverfront environment that particular cloudy day came together in a way that inspired this image.

Creating the Image

This one crooked shot turned out to be the best of my Eagle Landmark shots that day. (No HDR composites were possible for this image due to the movement of the gulls in this scene.) The eagle is quite a bit underexposed, and the sky is also slightly underexposed - but the raw version of the image gave me a lot of information to work with. I started with a conversion to black and white in Lightroom then used Topaz AI tools for noise reduction and sharpening. I then used Lightroom to crop, do some basic adjustments, add a mild vignette and then apply my own custom conversion to a sepia tone.

Infrared Image Capture and Processing: When to do noise reduction and sharpening

It depends on the image. Lenses and cameras are created in a way that suppresses or eliminates noise and softness which can be introduced by infrared light. When doing infrared photography, different lenses, sensors and camera settings can reintroduce 'unwanted' artifacts in many different ways. Each image needs to be assessed and the order of processing steps adjusted based on that particular image or set of images.

Bonus Image - Almer's Eagle and the City

Most folks view the Eagle Landmark with the Mississippi River in the background. Here is another view with the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin in the background. This was taken with a telephoto lens from a drone parked at 'eagle height' over the Mississippi River.

An aerial view looking east at the Eagle Landmark and the downtown area from Riverside Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Eagle Landmark #1

An aerial view looking east at the Eagle Landmark and the downtown area from Riverside Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin.