The Manchester Mega-Photo was my giant photocollage which was exhibited at the Urbis museum from July 2008 to April 2009. It measured 27 feet wide by eight feet high (8m x 3m) and consisted of over 300 poster sized prints. It was a megapixel panorama of the view from the top of the Beetham / Hilton tower, taking in a 90 degree field of view, covering much of Manchester city centre and many square miles of the Greater Manchester conurbation to the north and north west.
I received very favourable coverage and was featured in the Manchester Evening News in a double page spread.
So how did I come up with the idea and how did I see it through? And how have I benefited from it? How much money did I make from it?
I’ve been interested in digital photography since 1994 and right from the early days I dreamed if it would be possible to create multiple digital images consisting of many overlapping images forming a kind of patchwork. I experimented with simple overlapping panoramas consisting of three, four or maybe five overlapping images which I merged in Photoshop, or using some panorama ‘stitching’ software. This was working along the horizontal dimension.
But it wasn’t until 2006 that I had the opportunity to take the idea into two dimensions, horizontal and vertical. I had been invited by to go onto the Beetham Tower and take photos. A key member of the construction team was a fan of my site! On the first couple of visits, the weather was hazy, and we agreed to wait for a clear day. That clear day came on Thursday 6 February 2006 and I ascended to the top of the tower.
I already had in my mind an idea to take a giant panorama consisting of columns of overlapping images. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work or be feasible but I went ahead with it anyway. Standing in a freezing wind on a flimsy aluminum surface a few feet away from the safety barrier and a 500 foot drop, I captured over 900 photos using the zoom lens. I started in the top left and worked in columns till I reached the bottom right. My camera was the Fuji Finepix S3 and I used a 75-300mm lens.
I took many conventional photos as well, and posted selected images on my site. I felt overwhelmed however by the volume of material I had captured and what I was going to do with it. I experimented with merging images together in Photoshop but once I had merged six, the memory requirement was too much. Even if I was going to be able to print this giant image, where would I display it? I decided to let it rest.
Two years later, I revisited the images and returned to a simple idea. Instead of trying to merge them together into one giant megapixel print, I would simply print the images as individual prints and mount them on a wall. But what museum would have the space and be innovative enough to consider a proposal like this? I had contacts at the Urbis museum and sent an e-mail to them. I was pleased to receive a positive response. A meeting was arranged, and my idea received the go-ahead.
It was thanks to the now closed Urbis museum that the project went ahead. As well paying for the 300+ prints, they converted an existing exhibit, the City Wall into a large display surface. A carpenter was employed to cover it in wood and paint it white.
I spent a lot of time preparing the prints, rotating them and improving the contrast, but they were all printed out individually. In the end, it was just an old-fashioned photo-collage with prints stuck up on a wall with double sided tape. I had to find the starting point and marked it in pencil with a cross-hair. It took two museum assistants four days to put up.
It was officially revealed to the public on Thursday 4 July 2008. It was a big hit with visitors, particularly school groups. When standing close up to the image, the detail was astonishing but standing back the scale was impressive.
Rather than take a fee, I decided to try for sponsorship. In the end, we only secured one sponsor, Cityco.
How did I benefit from the Manchester Mega-Photo?
The payment I received for producing the biggest and most groundbreaking image of Manchester ever was £160. That was my share of the sponsorship, according to the contract.
But I benefited very much from the exposure and it enhanced my profile – a little.
In terms of promoting my career as a photographer, well, it was such an off-the-wall and unusual project, expensive and time-consuming to produce, too big to exhibit and collect as a conventional work of art, there were few commercial spin-offs. But I am not in photography for the money.
The Manchester Evening News approached me about producing a print to sell in the newspaper but they weren’t able to achieve a satisfactory price point and so it didn’t go ahead. Prints were on sale in the Urbis shop, but not one was sold! I have sold quite a few copies myself as prints and canvases and I continue to receive a trickle of enquiries.
Once I’d managed this great achievement I felt it was time to move onto other things.
The Mega-Photo was taken down in April 2009 and part of it was saved and put up in the Urbis shop. I salvaged the other half and still have it in storage. In 2011 Urbis closed and I removed the section that was in the shop and that too is now in storage.
All in all it was a great achievement and I’m proud of it, but it was not the key to widespread recognition and commercial success!