Paolozzi: Mosaics to Maquettes

Author: John Bryden

In February 2016 I was tasked with digitising a large number of mosaic pieces which once comprised an Eduardo Paolozzi mural, previously installed in Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, London in 1984. The work of the Scottish artist was acquired by the University of Edinburgh Art Collection in October 2015 following its removal from the tube station arches by Transport for London.

The dissipate mural consisted of approximately 500 fragments spread over 42 boxes and 4 pallets. Dependent on what percentage of the original mural we had actually acquired, the initial long-term plan was to reconstruct the mural and install it within the university campus, giving it a new life. From the outset however, it became clear that piecing it all back together again would be challenging. We decided to attempt to digitally reconstruct the mural first to give a better idea of the potential for physical reconstruction. This would also help us establish what percentage of the whole mural was represented among the pallets and boxes….an unusual, but exciting, project to say the least!

On a technical level, I used a Hasselblad-H4 camera and professional, Bowens studio lights within my digitisation process. To begin with, I captured several mosaic fragments in one shot and then went on to crop, and edit, each piece individually before saving as a separate, new file. The tricky part came in ensuring that the scale of each fragment would be represented correctly with every image produced. I, therefore, set the camera at a distance from the mosaics that would represent a 1:1 ratio in scale, placing a ruler within each raw image capture in order to make minor adjustments at a later stage if necessary. The result meant that, when using the images in image processing software, the pieces would be of a relative size to one another. If the size of the fragments was incorrect then this would only cause problems further down the line when trying to complete this very large digital jigsaw puzzle. Further, the faces/upside of the mosaics had to be perpendicular to the focal plane of the camera and, collectively, the mosaics had to be of equal distance to focal plane. The same principles applied for the positioning of the ruler itself. This confirmed that perspectives would not be distorted and that the relative size of the mosaics would remain consistent throughout the project.

montage-mosaic

0069107d

The image management process for this project involved saving the final cropped images as both tiff and png files. Having cropped directly around the edges of each fragment (i.e. with no background around the mosaic itself), the png files would then allow the fragments to be arranged edge to edge where possible. This process was key regarding the next stage of the project.

The images of the mosaics were then transferred to Professor Bob Fisher of the University’s Informatics Department. This cross departmental work seems particularly fitting as Paolozzi had close ties to the Informatics department and this relationship is visible in the form of several Paolozzi sculptures dotted about the Informatics buildings. With the help one of his PhD students, Professor Fisher used image recognition software, that he had developed, to digitally piece back together the fragments so to reflect the original design of the mural as best as possible. Professor Fisher had access to original images of the Paolozzi Mural in situ at Tottenham Road Tube Station which served as a vital reference point. To give a simple analogy, these original images would act as the cover image you would see on the box of a jigsaw puzzle, with the images of the individual mosaic fragments representing the pieces inside the box.

Art Collections Curator, Neil Lebeter, and I produced a short video interview with Professor Bob Fisher and Phd student, Alex Davies, where they discuss their work process, the challenges, and uniqueness, of this particular project and the results they have found to date. It is an interesting watch!

https://vimeo.com/170003917

Since the making of this interview the project plans have developed in light of Bob and Alex’s findings. In August 2016 the University employed a Public Art Officer, Liv Laumenech. As well as caring for, and developing the public art collection, she also has the responsibility of figuring out what to do with the fragments. Given that a large portion of the arches are missing, to reconstruct the arches now seems an unlikely option. The next step that has been taken is to organise an interdisciplinary symposium in February 2017 that will bring together Paolozzi experts, conservators and mosaicists to brainstorm ideas for redisplay and use of the fragments with students. Until such time as a decision is made regarding their redisplay, the mosaics have been used in teaching and as part of visits by researchers and the general public to the art collection.

Having completed my side of the Paolozzi Mosaics Project, I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to digitise a large number of Paolozzi maquettes which are also part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. The collection encompasses a wide range of weird and wonderful pieces. Among his maquettes we can see where he began developing his ideas for what became his piece, The Manuscript of Monte Cassino (also known as the ‘big foot’), situated outside St Mary’s RC Cathedral here in Edinburgh.

paolozzi-big-foot

Digitising the mosaic fragments involved a more consistent photographic approach in terms of camera positioning and lighting, whereas working with the maquettes has offered slightly more freedom in this regard. I have been lighting and positioning each maquette in a way that best exhibits the physical attributes of that particular object. Here are a number of the maquettes pictured below.

0069783d


0079258d

0069816d

We have also had Digital Heritage specialist Clara Molina Sanchez in the studio carrying out 3D work on one of the maquettes. This should render a high quality 3D visualisation of the object. Currently we are looking at ways of delivery such 3D images online. Here, Clara has kindly allowed us to show an interesting behind-the-scenes shot of her setup.

paolozzi-clara

John Bryden

Project Photographer

Digital Imaging Unit

University of Edinburgh

 


 

A high-quality hybrid 35mm film stills digitising setup

Author: Max Browne

As any photographer knows after decades of shutter clicking, a huge backlog of archive work can develop. This occurs often with personal work which tends to get put aside until time is available to attend to it. In my case not only have I thousands of images to view and select but technology has moved on from the darkroom origin of my film negs and transparencies to require digital scanning which varies enormously in terms of speed, cost and quality of operating and processing.

I am sure that many would agree that a significant reason for such a backlog of personal archive work is the onerous and painfully slow mode of scanning 35mm slides and negatives using Minolta/Nikon/Canon box style scanners with film tray loading. This was never fun as it was both laborious and technically sub-optimal. Noting the past tense – it is not any more!

If you consider replicating the film grain, image detail, colour and tones of the originals as a base standard of working, along with digitising as fast as you can load and focus them, then you may be interested in the 35mm scanning setup I have put together recently: Nikon D800E camera, 55mm Micro-Nikkor lens with Extension Ring PK13, old Nikon F Slide Copier (via eBay) with custom made dovetail support post, Lanparte DSLR fully adjustable baseplate with support bars/adaptor and MacBook Pro laptop (figs 1,2). Using any suitable light source, this rig will provide a fast 8k raw NEF files workflow with either negative or positive screen images for optimising variables in real time as you adjust them on the laptop, once captured. Additionally, if you work tethered, then the camera ‘live view’ can display negatives as positives if you switch the computer screen mode to ‘invert’. In this way you can also use the system as an instant real time viewer for 35mm negatives prior to capture which is useful for both identification and assessment purposes – especially if there are no contact sheets for reference. For this reason tethered capture of negatives is a more efficient way of working since positive image tonality can be checked against a histogram and exposure adjusted as quickly as positive slides can via the camera rear screen.

Fig.1

Fig.1

Fig.2

Fig.2

Perhaps I should add that this set-up is one for manual operation. Cleaning, loading, focusing, assessing and correctly exposing the originals need the practised eye of a photographer to get the best out of it. I don’t think it could be successfully used in any ‘auto’ mode. However I’d be interested to know if such a setup could be more streamlined – perhaps with an autofocus macro lens.

In practice focusing is achieved by sliding the camera on the base plate (which is easy as it is superbly engineered) rather than twisting the lens focus ring. A two second shutter delay works well to minimise any operator vibration. I generally shoot film emulsion side in so that any slight bowing of the film follows the natural curvature of the lens depth of field. This requires the extra step of left-to-right reversal of the image later but maintains more consistent centre to edge image definition.

As you would expect, digitising positives is straightforward and intuitive. On the other hand negatives take a little more time to get used to since the tonalities are in reverse – you need to adjust exposure to retain ‘shadow’ details that are actually highlights and vice versa. Once captured a great advantage is that any adjustments in ‘camera raw’ can then be made whilst viewing on a positive screen in ‘invert’ mode. Once the image files are opened in a Photoshop type programme they can be ‘inverted’ to positive themselves and the screen changed back to normal mode.

A long awaited project of mine has been to digitise my collection of 1960s-1980s Rock & Roll gig images and a great bonus is that many that were previously rejected in their film version are now usable in digital form after suitable manipulation. This enhances them as historical documentation as well as from an aesthetic viewpoint. Many just look better after digitising which is not surprising when considering the continuously variable club/concert/theatre lighting conditions under which they were shot. Under or over-exposed shots can be made acceptable now as can problem images such as the unwanted ‘protrusions behind heads’ classic which leads me to digress to a brief ‘documentary ethics’ consideration.

I am a freelance documentary hunter supplying captured images for client display. Thus my work ethics are pragmatic not purist. If a subject has a floral arrangement growing out of their heads then one of the three of us (problem-object, subject or me) must move in order to provide a non-distracting image. Such was the problem recently with an otherwise nice and historically interesting shot I have of Eric Clapton onstage in London about 1980. Since Eric famously became teatotal a few years later the beer shot provides something of a conversation piece. The intriguing but highly distracting object in the background was easily disposed of, after digitising, by some quick surgery in Photoshop (ills.3,4). My fledgling website for these images is http://www.rockshots.co

Fig.3

Fig.3

Fig.4

Fig.4

Almost all the equipment is readily available including the aging but excellent Nikon F Slide Copier bought for less than £100 on eBay. The exception is the small but very necessary dovetail post to connect and adjust the Slide Copier onto the baseplate support bars. This was made for me by a local machine shop and again cost less than £100. The Lanparte adjustable baseplate unit is inexpensive and a joy to use and is necessary to update the otherwise obsolete Slide Copier which will not fit most modern DSLR cameras as their fronts protrude further than the original SLR film cameras they were designed to fit. In short this kind of rig gives these otherwise excellent copiers a new lease of life. If you are interested in using a similar setup I’d recommend acquiring one of these key items soon before word gets out!

Do get in touch if you have any queries.

Max Browne, DigitisingArt.Co

The very helpful Lanparte UK agent can be found at http://www.fastforwardtime.co.uk