OS OpenData becomes a work of art

Guest blogger Nicholas White explains how photography and opendata go hand in hand…

I began my photography career shooting digitally. Digital was commonplace, both on consumer and professional levels. It seemed to be the go-to medium for financial viability, instant gratification and provided the photographer with the ability to produce large quantities of imagery without breaking the bank. This is by no means a bad thing, I’m all for embracing change. Change is good, it keeps us on our toes, opens doors to new methods of image-making and challenges us to think about how we align with the current trends in photography. Instagram and smartphone photography has added an extra dimension to this rapidly shape-shifting medium, with an average of 70 million photos per day being shared in 2015.


Yet in spite of all this, I find myself with a loupe pressed against a ground-glass with a jacket over my head desperately trying to focus my Large Format film camera whilst being battered by wind and rain. It’s a slow process, and somewhat impractical when you’re trekking for days to reach a location when you’ve been advised to “travel light” but there is something special about using a camera like this. For me, it was never a case of intentionally going against the grain nor was it really anything to do with the handful of technical advantages of working in this format. Ultimately, I shoot Large Format because I adore shooting Large Format. It’s slow, considered and almost a therapeutic process. It’s incredibly satisfying and above all – and perhaps most importantly – really good fun.

In January of this year I was approached by Knowle West Media Centre and asked whether I’d like to be involved with the 20/20 Visions project celebrating the 20th anniversary of KWMC. The project invites twenty photographers who have known KWMC through the years, as well as emerging photographers in Bristol, to create work responding to the ways in which we make, use and value photography.

For me, the “value” of my work is accentuated by the time it takes to create the images paired with the physical effort invested in reaching the typically remote locations where these images are made. Unfortunately, this is rarely depicted in the final image. There is no way of telling whether I walked 10 minutes from the car, or spent a night in the mountains on a 50km hike. You don’t know where I was before the image was made, or where I went afterwards. How high up was I? Is there a sheer 1000 metre drop directly behind me? 20/20 Visions allowed me the opportunity to create a piece of work where I can communicate some of this additional information through the use of GPS data.

To create the image, I set off for a three-day stint in the Cairngorm mountains, recording the entire route on my GPS. The image itself was taken at the Luibeg Bridge crossing Luibeg Burn on the approach to Ben Macdui:NW_1_0004

The resulting GPS data from this trip was exported when I got home, and overlayed onto a digital Ordnance Survey map. Then, using Ordnance Survey’s fantastic open data, I downloaded files containing just the contours from the area I hiked. These were individually loaded into GIS Software (Geographic Information System), pieced together into nine separate tiles and exported as vectors.

These vectors were sent to The Factory – an amazing facility run by KWMC which utilises the tools and technologies of digital manufacturing. It was here that these vectors were laser cut into panels of wood and the route marked out with pins and red string. The finished piece is currently hanging next to my print at an exhibition at Knowle West Media Centre, running until 28 February 2017 and will hopefully offer an insight into the chaos and complexity behind the seemingly calm and beautiful.




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