In 2008 I created the largest ever photo collage of Manchester. I called it the Manchester Mega-Photo, and it was a megapixel print that was displayed in the foyer of the Urbis museum from July 2008 to April 2009.
It was a gigantic megapixel photocollage that consisted of over 300 poster size prints. I took the photos from the top of the Beetham/Hilton Tower in 2006 when it was under construction.
For some time I had had the idea of taking a gigantic photocollage made up of image that overlap not just from left to right, but from top to bottom as well, and turning it into a huge megapixel print with an astonishingly high resolution.
In February 2006 I had the opportunity of going up the Hilton tower, then a construction site, and taking photos and so I decided to try out my idea. I wasn’t sure whether I would use the tripod or not. I brought it along with me, but in the end I just used the camera hand-held.
Standing on a flimsy aluminium surface with a 500 foot drop beyond the safety barrier, I raised my camera and prepared to capture the magnificent view below me. I started in the upper left aiming at the hills near Bury taking overlapping shots from top to bottom. I moved the camera back to the top, aimed it a little to the right, and carried on in the same way until I had covered most of the cityscape. In all I took over 900 photographs. For reference I took a few normal wide angle shots too.
As soon as I got home and started to view photos on my computer the question was: “What am I going to do with them?”. I tried ‘stitching them’ into larger digital images but as soon as I had merged five or six the computer couldn’t handle it any more.
I decided to let the project rest and concentrate on other things. And then many months later, after much thought in the back of my mind, I came up with a novel solution: I decided I was not going to merge or alter the photos digitally. I instead, I would just print them out and stick them on the flat display surface. An easy solution, and I asked myself why I hadn’t thought of it before!
But where could I find a display surface large enough, and how would I pay to for the large number of prints to be made. I began to think about galleries, but what gallery or museum would have the space and the vision to support an idea like this?
One gallery sprung immediately to mind. It was one I’d had some connections with already. It was Urbis, Manchester’s museum of the city (now sadly closed).
Around April 2008, I sent an email to the head of programming, Pollyanna Clayton-Stamm, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a positive response. A meeting was arranged and it was decided the project would go ahead. The date would be some time in July.
I selected approximately 300 prints to display. This was due to the shape of the display surface. Urbis converted a very large existing artwork called the City Wall. A carpenter covered it wood, and painted it white. The display surface was around 15 feet high and 30 feet wide, that’s 5 metres by 10 metres.
Two gallery assistants were brought in to put up the prints. On Monday 1st July I came into Urbis, and with a pencil, marked a cross roughly in the middle of the display surface where the assistants were to start putting up the poster prints.
They stuck them up with double sided tape gradually working from the centre outwards. There were many imperfections and edges that didn’t line up quite right, but that was the nature of the artwork. There was even a small bit of the cityscape that I missed, but it was concealed by pushing the prints together.
It took the two assistants the best part of 4 working days to stick all 300+ prints onto the display service. I went to see how it looked on the Wednesday afternoon, I was flabbergasted at the sight of my artwork. The sheer size and detail of the image were overwhelming and once it went on display the next day, I’m happy to say that visitors took to the Manchester Mega-Photo very well indeed.
They would often spend a long time standing or sitting in front of the collage pointing at various parts, and picking out familiar and unfamiliar details. People often thought that the RBS building in the lower left was Urbis. In fact the Urbis building is hidden behind the Manchester Wheel in the upper centre of the picture.
I was very proud of my work and felt that I had really achieved something unique. I could have opted to receive a fee from Urbis but instead, I decided to try and seek sponsorship. Unfortunately the summer of 2008 was not a good time to be looking for sponsorship! I tried a number of different possibilities including RBS. What few responses I received were not favourable.
Only Cityco, Manchester’s city centre management company, an arm of Manchester City Council, decided to offer sponsorship.
My satisfaction would not be in monetary terms, but in realising my vision and seeing the artwork there in front of me and having scores and scores of visitors go into the museum and appreciate it. I got a double page spread in the Manchester Evening News, quite an achievement. The Mega-Photo was also the backdrop for a music event, which I attended. That made me a sense of quiet satisfaction.
At the end of the display period, April 2009, Urbis decided they would like to retain right-hand section showing some of Manchester city centres most famous buildings. This part was carefully taken down and transferred into the shop, and put up behind the counter. I was able to retrieve the left-hand section.
When the Urbis museum closed in 2011 to be replaced by the National Football Museum, the construction workers carrying out the conversion of the building kindly offered me the remaining section of my photo.
I took that section away and it is currently in storage at a gallery in the Northern Quarter. At some stage I might like to bring back the Manchester Mega-Photo and I am currently looking at possible venues. The two salvaged sections can be joined up again, the damaged bits can be patched up, and any missing sections can simply be printed out once more
The Manchester Mega-Photo lives on in the form of a small number of prints that have been ordered as canvases sized at two and three metres wide.
I am proud to call myself the concept originator and creator of what I believe to be the largest photo-collage of Manchester ever made. It is a symbol of my desire to push back the boundaries of photography, and to extend the scope of the photographic medium into new areas.
That pioneering spirit is still with me today, as I move into other areas and develop new projects, which I hope will have as big an impact as the Manchester Mega-Photo did, if not bigger.