The Google Art Project involved a few all-night sessions on site at Tate Britain, and for me the most rewarding was the time we captured the ultra high resolution image of Chris Ofili’s beautiful and tragic painting No Woman, No Cry
However, pretty much everything was set up to go wrong before the shoot even began.
Firstly, the session was scheduled just before the exhibition opening in January 2010, and as anyone working in museums will tell you this is can be a time of high drama and tension. Then, for months we had planned to capture the image in daylight, and at the last minute had to switch to overnight, arrange lighting, security and so on. Next, the specialist equipment that was being driven from Madpixel in Spain got delayed by officials on route. Someone was called to drive from Madrid to Dover to fix this the night before the capture. Utterly heroic.
Finally, we were on site, setting up, chatting to the artist about how it would all work, when discussion began of the importance of the little-known phosphorescent image hidden in the painting. After proving the glow could be seen in this light, we knew we simply had to find a way to capture it at high resolution too. After many hours taking around 1,500 high res photos in regular light - including some techie bemusement that they were shooting the empty but ‘active’ space between the dungballs underneath the painting - we set about capturing the phosphorescent paint glowing in the dark.
Here’s how it worked. The portable lights were moved into position and the camera equipment recalibrated. The main gallery lights were switched off. The lead would say ‘X’ (in Spanish, I never figured out what!) and two guys would try and simultaneously switch off the complex bank of switches connected to their portable lights. Then, in a pitch black room bathed only in the glow of phosphorescence, the camera shutter was opened for about eight seconds, the banks of lights switched back on and everyone’s eyes struggled to cope.
This was noctilucent madness - daylight level - pitch black - glow - daylight level, and was repeated hundreds of times through the night. By about 4am the entire team were hallucinating in bright green.
We finally finished, truly elated, at dawn. I cycled home in the drizzle, loving my job to bits.
See what you think about this beautiful and tragic artwork, and view the phosphorescent image in the Google Art Project.