Public Art pt3 – Trials and Tribulations

The photomosaic created on a computer with Artensoft software gave me a good idea of the kinds of images needed for the piece in terms of their colour, contrast and arrangements of compositional elements and where they should be placed. Unfortunately, the software wasn?t ?clever? enough to keep each separate photograph to its format of 3×4, often cropping frames then magnifying them to a larger size. The computer generated photomosaic was to be my guide but in reality it proved to be a very loose guide and it?s only value was in selecting or suggesting a range of images to use.

My intent, as noted earlier, was to collaborate with the public in sourcing images for this Public Art; specifically images generated by members of Bideford?s Youth Club run by Devon Youth Services. The photomosaic project idea, within Culture Show, was discussed in the Spring with DYS and gained a very favourable response, as the young people would get some photographic training through the partnership. Dates were set in June and July for this to take place. I had hoped for up to 100 digital photographs each from the 20 or so members of the group, and was particularly keen on including portraits, or selfies, of the young people as a way of dating the piece, but always knew that a lesser number could be supplemented by images of my own taken to document various Bideford Bay Creatives events. However things don?t always work out as one hopes perhaps due to the timing on the calendar, a breakdown in communication, or the sheer size of the task. Only one member of the club came up with a set of images, though sadly many of these where of too low a quality to print at 3×4 inches. A few more images were extracted from staff members. I had a small set of images from a previous workshop with the same group and with Young Devon (now dissolved). This left me very short of images as I was hoping I would only need to add a few hundred of my own to complete the cache. So time was spent trawling through Bideford Bay Creatives? archive of images, mostly taken by myself. The images found were mostly from First Fridays, music on Jubilee Square, Potwalloping Festival, Appledore Arts Festival, AONB Photography Project, Wicked Week workshop and documentation, A Year in the Life of Bidefod project (which included many of the towns events), Culture Show and Tales of the Riverbank. I was never going to find hundreds of blue images, of differing shades, so I decided to shoot a whole lot of pictures of sky.

Back on Jubilee Square the window?s, which had been covered with a white plastic film for many years, were cleaned of their greasy surface and roughened up with an abrasive scourer. A4 card was fixed to this surface with wallpaper paste to enable easy removal in the future. The card was white or black and it?s positioning in the grid was determined by the brightness or darkness of the image that would be on top of it, so that any ?cracks? between the prints would be a similar tone to the images.
I used a scaled down print of the Bideford Longbridge photomosaic on my computer, with grid lines, as my guide. At first I had positioned the 3×4? prints on my computer screen as layers on top of the photomosaic grid; then, precisely, used the same prints on the prepared window. However this proved to be an extremely slow process, locating specific prints, and ultimately it didn?t work anyway because of small discrepancies in the cut sizes of the prints in comparison to those on the guide. Very soon I reverted to drawing the grid and all of the key features of the image straight onto the prepared windows and working in a far more intuitive way. It was clear by now that I would have to trim and crop prints down to make the overall image easier to read so I made the decision to work from the irregular inside shapes of the bridge arches, so that their shapes were as accurate as possible. I was essentially making a computer generated photomosaic manually, a massive task for a picture 12ft x 5ft in size. This was a fascinating part of the process for me as I could no longer ?see? the individual prints as images in their own right, but as a relative colour and hue. I found myself looking for lines, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and curved; where those lines were created by a light area and a dark area meeting. It was a thrill to make the crown of an arch with an upturned image of Jubilee Square or the vertical wall of an arch with a coastal horizon. Prints were grouped by their colour, tone, line, shape etc and my creative approach was to keep same or similar images apart from each other and also to find interesting juxtapositions of unrelated images.

Public Art pt2 – Budget

Tim Mills

Tim Mills’ installation ’30 Plymouths’ at the Mayflower West Car Park

I got to see installed public art and experience a community led piece in the making at the Plymouth Art Weekender on Sunday. It was encouraging to see a lot of photographic image use in various temporary and semi-permanent ways which gives me food for thought for future projects.

The budget for this work was always going to be small and only sufficient to cover material costs, but as a founder of Bideford Bay Creatives with the opportunity to make a large piece of art for the town that I?m living in I was happy to proceed under these restrictive conditions which define the finished work. I decided to use Truprint to print the images because I?ve been very impressed with the quality of image in both colour accuracy and longevity in the past. Truprint was used in 2012 for my Postcard from Manteo Open Studio where images were glued to the risers and varnished ? these images are still there and look as good as when they were first installed.

Union St

Use of historic photographs showing how Union Street used to look

Also Truprint is very cheap, approximately 5p for a 6×4 inch print – my intention was to get two images 3×4 inch on each print making them 2.5p each. My reason for such small prints, a size too small for any commercial printer to offer, was to achieve a truer representation of the original image through the photomosaic. Essentially, a photomosaic gets progressively easier to read as the number of images increases. However, the cost of the printing was small in comparison to the glue needed to fix the prints to the window surface; and this was compounded by the condition that the artwork needed to be temporary rather than permanent.

David Green

Making the arch for the middle section of the Photomosaic

It would have been possible to have sized an MDF board for each of the three window frames, then to have constructed the photomosaic off site in my studio and so only spending time in the allocated space for the installation of the finished boards. However, as this was Public Art, I felt that the public had the right to be engaged with the artwork in progress, so I decided to construct the whole piece within the public domain of Jubilee Square.


Public Art pt1 – Concept

1st computer generated photomosaic using Artensoft Photomosic Wizard and random images

Art is rarely just created solely for the artist, often made as a commission or gift, but the majority of art sits in the public realm. Historically this was the gallery wall, the open studio, civic building or hotel lobby; but now even amateur artists and hobbyists can publish their latest work to potentially a mass audience through social media, the art critic’s judgement replaced by peer reviews and the number of likes it receives.

“Public art is art in any media that has been planned and executed with the intention of being staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all.” Knight, Cher Krause (2008). Public Art: theory, practice and populism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Having a piece of sculpture installed into a city square by contractors is a typical example of public art but my experience of making a piece, in the 12ft x 5ft empty frame of a boarded up window, in a very public square over the course of 4 weeks takes ‘public’ to a new level.

The original image made by stitching 6 frames together with Photomerge in Photoshop

The original image made by stitching 6 frames together with Photomerge in Photoshop

The work, a photomosaic, was conceived 6 months prior to the installation, and submitted to Bideford Bay Creatives for inclusion in their Culture Show ‘art in non-gallery spaces’ for August – September 2015. Once the concept was accepted permission was obtained from the shop manager of McColls locally and nationally and of the building owner to use the blanked out windows for the piece. Permission was given so long as the artwork was temporary or was easily removable in the future.

As this was to be public art I wanted the public to be part of it hence the idea of a photomosaic which I estimated could be made from 700 to 800 separate images, many of which could come from the public realm. I had never made a photomosaic but my arts practice over the last 20 years, from triptychs made with a film camera to detailed interiors of sea caves have been achieved through constructing an image from many frames. I have also been teaching photography through this period and wanted there to be a learning element to the work also. With this in mind I approached Devon Youth Service in Bideford as a partner in the project so that local young people would get the opportunity to experience the photographic arts process and see their photographs in a public space.

Colour was intensified through hue adjustments and increase of saturation

Colour was intensified through hue adjustments and increase of saturation

Through experimenting with Artensoft Photo Mosaic Wizard software it became clear that a colourful, high contrast, graphic image would be needed to base the mosaic on. The theme of Culture Show was the River, and so I wanted to use Bideford’s iconic, historic longbridge, which dates back to the 13th century to build the work from.

Early attempt at computer generated photomosaic to determine which images worked the best

Early attempt at computer generated photomosaic to determine which images worked the best

The ‘frame’ I needed to fill was wide-screen in shape so I needed a view of the bridge head on, much like it is in Bideford?s coat of arms, however this is a view rarely seen as you need to be in the middle of the river to see it. I took up the challenge on a very low tide with sunshine highlighting the uneven arches of the bridge; and walked to the middle of the channel using a bamboo cane to check for sinking sand. Conscious of the incoming tide the initial photographic panorama was made very quickly. These images were stitched together in Photoshop?s Photomerge enhanced in Lightroom and then the saturation was increased to give me the graphic representation I was hoping for.

Final Artensoft photomosaic that was used as a guide for the artwork

Final Artensoft photomosaic that was used as a guide for the artwork