Artist Uses 30,000 Images To Create Historical Digital Mosaic

Helen Marshall's digital mosaic in Manchester. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

How do you put a face to a war that occurred a century ago? British artist Helen Marshall has done exactly that, compiling over 30,000 photo images from World War I to create a memorial mosaic in the form of a portrait of a World War I private. The soldier’s compelling face, she explained to the BBC, “could also exist in the here and now, in our time.”

The thousands of original photos from 1914–18 used in the mosaic were sourced from the archives of the Britain’s Imperial War Museums and public submissions. The photograph Marshall chose for the piece is of Private James Ernest Beaney of the Queen’s Regiment (Royal West Surrey Regiment) who was killed in combat in France in 1916.

Beaney’s great niece, Irene Ingles, told BBC “[The mosaic is] like having a long-lost relative we never really knew, suddenly come in to our lives.”

On the process of creating the mosaic, Marshall explains “it’s a bit like a painting,” trying to utilize technology to get a desired end product. She sifted through hundreds of photos before choosing Beaney’s, and created 30 drafts before she was happy with the mosaic.

Marshall was commissioned by BBC Local Radio to create the mosaic portrait, which is viewable online. Online visitors can zoom in and out on the work to see the many photographs that make up the mosaic. The actual work is on view at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester on November 8 and 9, accompanied by a documentary film. A massive reproduction of it is also on view on the floor outside BBC headquarters in London.

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