Sunday, November 09, 2014

Mystery behind Amsterdam Mist - Bert Monroy

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The art of powerful storytelling

I'm currently looking at how different professionals around the world pass on their skills to interested members of the public. I feel that many of the standard "master class courses" are flawed, especially in my sector of broadcast storytelling. Screens have replaced chalk, but rather than "show" people what is possible, there is still a lot of "telling". And because things have become very formulaic, we're repeating too many of the old ideas which don't work in a world where sharing has replaced shouting. I note that trainees from many "developing countries" are more developed than we are.

I've long been a fan of the TWIT network, founded by radio broadcaster Leo Laporte. He has grown his "deep-dive" network of tech shows into a modern equivalent of what we were trying to do in Hilversum from 1980-2000 with Media Network. But although I like the pundit shows like This Week in Tech, MacBreak Weekly or This Week in Google, I must confess that the hour-long in-depth interview programme "Triangulation" is the show that I set aside time to watch on an iPad. A recent case in point is the discussion with hyper-realist artist Bert Monroy. Born in New York City, he now lives in Berkeley, California.

Bert on the power of sharing

While we were messing around in Europe with the early Mac's in 1984 to see what they could do for radio guys, Bert was starting a new digital career, looking at the possibilities of MacPaint, which turned from being a toy into programs like Photoshop, Pixelpaint, Illustrator and Imagestudio which modern artists rely on today. 

Bert is different from many artists in that he shares his techniques, encouraging others to apply them in their own works. A lot of the knowledge is given away. Which leads people to inexpensive digital master classes on the excellent knowledge site He doesn't need to be afraid of imitators - I know of few people who put so much time and effort into their work.This recent edition of Triangulation caught my eye because of Bert's discussion of his latest digital work called Amsterdam Mist. It's a digital creation based on a simple, rather blurry image he took on Radhuisstraat, a rather non-descript bridge on the West side of Amsterdam near the Westerkerk church. I've been over the bridge many times in a tram but never really paused to look down the canal at that point. Perhaps that explains why I don't have my own picture to hand, even though I have hundreds of pictures of the city.

The bridge on the Radhuisstraat via Google Maps

The same bridge in summer via Google Maps

Around 41 minutes into the Triangulation program, Bert starts explaining the making of Amsterdam Mist. You're invited to explore and as you zoom in, so the mist clears and the incredible detail becomes clear.

Bert points out a few Easter Eggs - his first book in the bike basket, there's a logo of on the same bike, many of the license-plates on cars reflect the travels of the artist.

Hidden Easter eggs on a remarkably clean bicycle
License plates have a hidden meaning

His website also explains the impact that Google maps had on the work. 

My Amsterdam Mist is the culmination of twenty-two months of work. Every element in the image was meticulously created pixel-by-pixel using Adobe® Photoshop® and Adobe® Illustrator®.
It is the first piece to be inspired by the shot rather than the scene itself.

Each tree took an average of ten days to create. Extensive research was done to ensure the authenticity of the scene. The reference for the trucks, cars and bicycles was done by doing a Google search for European models of each. The boats were boats that appeared in other images taken by me during the visit to Amsterdam. The original shot had very little detail. The day was overcast and the shot was done with a hand held point-and-shoot camera. All the details were nothing more than a blur.

One of the more unusual facts about this piece is how the details of the buildings were researched. The scene was photographed while walking from one place to another. In Google maps, the two locations were plotted allowing me to determine the precise place where the original shot was taken (middle figure). Using Google Street View, details of the structures were researched by strolling up and down the streets on either side of the actual canal.

Be careful, you can spend hours absorbed in this picture - especially if you put it on a large monitor. But it may encourage you to try to experiment yourself.

I have also been using Google Street View to capture stories from people which otherwise would not have been rediscovered. Contact me if you're interested in how it's done.

In the meantime, thanks to Bert for creating an adventure just round the corner.

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