Digital exhibit puts public in picture

January 12, 2001

A graphic design expert has used digital technology to "democratise" art in a year-long project at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Marty St James, a video artist and senior lecturer at Camberwell College of Arts, won funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board to develop ground-breaking interactive technology that allows ordinary people to create their portrait alongside those of the rich and famous.

With the help of Sony UK and Macmillan Edinburgh, Mr St James developed digital cameras and digital print machines for the "Picture Yourself" millennium video project. Throughout 2000, as visitors stepped on a mat on the floor, a secret camera reproduced their image in a picture frame, hanging beside portraits of eminent Scots. They could use a foot pedal either to unfreeze their image or print it out as a souvenir.

"It was particularly difficult to develop the technology because of the digital print output. This allows people to take away a printed visual statement of their participation," Mr St James said.

"It has been very popular with children and older people, spanning two generations, one which knows about technology and one which is culturally aware and has a sense of history."

New developments were giving people more access to and control of communication technology, he said. "This is more democratic and power enhancing for everyone, including the artist."

Mr St James also has a show at the National Portrait Gallery in London, "Boy Girl Video Diptych", a video that "morphs" images of his two children taken over ten years. It represents the year 2000 in the "Painting the Century" exhibition of portraits from 1900. "It starts with Queen Victoria and ends with the common person, or common child," he said.

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