My first photo mosaic was for a high school photography class my junior year, an assignment inspired by some of David Hockney’s work. I remember being impressed by Hockney’s work and how every single photograph was but one shard of an entire scene. I shot it at the bike underpass on Uni Hill in Boulder, CO. It was a complicated process to put it together, and the outcome was messy. My teacher was amused by floating power lines in the skyline that never connected with one another.
The next one I did was the summer after I graduated from high school. Standing before the enormity of the Notre Dame cathedral, I felt as if one snapshot could not capture the wonder of the entire structure. One single photograph could not express the awe it inspired in me. So I turned to the form of the photo mosaic. The final product turned out clumsy and distorted, but it did a better job of expressing my awe than any single photograph could capture.
I picked up the practice again after college. Back in those days (re: the early aughts), I was still on print film. I bought two rolls of 35 mm film with 36 exposures each. I took the pictures on my manual camera, sent them in for processing, and hoped for the best. When it comes to mosaics, more pictures means more options. More options means less of a chance for too many distortions – half of a moving car, a missing window, or people that appear as if I pulled them from an episode of Fringe.
With my iPhone, these rules haven’t changed even though I take three times as many pictures as I did on my manual camera. And if I need to adjust the focus, enhance the photo, or make the people slightly less like they melded with their Fringe doppelgängers, then I can correct those details while I’m still standing in front of the scene.
While the iPhone makes me more productive and efficient at producing these pieces, my attempts to capture this feeling of awe remains the same. Everything I create feels like a clumsy attempt to capture the feeling that there are things in this world that are so much bigger than me. The stories I write are merely a child’s rendering of the story as it exists in my head. The mosaics I create are nothing more than a fraction of what I feel when I take in these wondrous moments.
It seems unfair that we humans are given the capacity to create art, to express what we see and feel, and to feel like we’re doing it so ineptly and so imperfectly, especially when there are colors other life forms can process that the human eye cannot, when there are laws in our universe that our minds are still trying to make sense of.
The photo mosaics never come out perfect, despite my attempts to make them so. There are always forms that don’t line up perfectly and pieces that are missing. But I do my best, and while the pieces have these slight imperfections, the act of creating brings me in touch with what I can only call the divine and the sense of awe when I first beheld the Notre Dame Cathedral or conceived the protagonist for my work in progress.
When I first saw that Hockney mosaic, I thought it perfect. I admired each and every detail that made the scene come together. When I look at it now, I spot the distortions and jagged edges. I also see an artistic mind devoted to capturing something wondrous in spite of it’s human limitations. Maybe it’s not perfect, but it’s such a waste not even to attempt it.