Walead Beshty at the Barbican

By Laurie Atterbury

In 2014 we worked on an incredible art project for Walead Beshty. Here, Hurtwood’s production assistant Laurie Atterbury shares his experience of producing the huge books which accompany this bespoke project.

Working in tandem with California based photographer and sculptor Walead Beshty we’ve been part of creating one of our largest and most exciting projects ever ‘A partial dissembling of an invention without a future: Helter-skelter and random notes in which the pulleys and cogwheels are lying around at random all over the workbench’ A gigantic title for a gigantic series of books, bound in library buckram with many multi-page throwouts. Walead is well known for his ‘Picture Made by My Hand with the Assistance of Light’ series from 2006, drawing comparisons to the photography of Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy. Ultimately destined for LA to make a library to accompany the work. We are delighted to have this opportunity to present his work.


working out how to do it!

In August 2014 I was responsible for putting the bulk of Walead’s images into the first books for the exhibition at the Barbican Gallery. This involved many different processes that together have required time, trial and error and technical attention to detail.

The images supplied formed part of a new series that were exhibited at the Barbican Gallery in London in the Autumn of 2014. This series involves the creation of thousands of cyanotypes taken on a daily basis over the course of a year. A cyanotype is a photographic printing process using ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide –more commonly known as a blueprint). The source of the images are materials Walead has found or been using during his day-to-day work. These cyanotypes are then catalogued, measured and photographed from both sides.

Initially the idea was to print these objects to a scale of 1:1; perfectly feasible for a post-it note, but some of the objects were two or three metres wide, which would have meant printing books at an incredible size.

As a compromise, it was decided to create the books at a ratio of 2:1 with any exceptionally large objects appearing on throw out pages. This was a way to create a realistic size of book without compromising on the quality and impact of the art inside.


The technical detail

Accurately measuring each image to scale involved looking at each image individually rather than running a blanket process. This is the level of detail necessary when working on our bespoke books!

As well as scale, the images had to be cut-out, so as to remove erroneous background data and draw the focus fully to the centre of the print. This too was complex, requiring accuracy and precision . I made an attempt to use the Coco Multi Channel filter to drop the backgrounds, this was successful on the images that already had a significant amount of contrast, however on too many images it was catching too much information from the foreground meaning the pictures looked overexposed. So again, a slower approach was taken with the central image being manually traced and copied to another layer, taking care not to leave too harsh an edge or lose any small pieces of information.

Finally, the placement of each image is vital. As every object had been photographed from the front and back, these sides must perfectly mirror each other. Again, there is no process in Photoshop or Indesign that can automate the intricacies of such a task; it must be done by hand.


Documenting art

What I’ve done is only the first step in the printing process, but at Hurtwood we’re confident in creating something that is not just a conduit for information, but a piece of art in its own right. I believe that when we’re finished with this series, Walead will have documentation of his fantastic artwork through a form that does not detract from the beauty of his subject, but instead compliments it. That’s our job.


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