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In Search of Paradise

(October 2006) posted on Thu Oct 26, 2006

National Graphx & Imaging and the Chicago Botanic Garden bring the world's great gardens to the US.


By Kacey King

Now you don"?t have to go any farther than Chicago if you want to visit some of the world"?s great gardens.


The 385-acre Chicago Botanic Garden is already home to one of this country"?s most-visited public gardens and is world-renowned for its own plant collections and displays. But it wanted to find a way to bring other gardens from around the globe to the US and have viewers feel that they were in each garden.


It achieved this by partnering with some of the world"?s best garden photographers in conjunction with Chicago-based print-provider National Graphx & Imaging. The result: "In Search of Paradise: Great Gardens of the World,"? a photomural project comprising more than 125 large-format images of contemporary gardens that work in harmony with the exhibit space"?s windows and its surrounding vistas, enabling visitors to not just look at pictures on a wall but actually believe they can step into each scene.


Turning 6000 into 125


To gather images for the exhibit, the Chicago Botanic Garden initially contacted established garden photographers from all over the world, asking them to submit images of certain well-known gardens. The images were sourced from top garden photographers including Nicola Browne, Mick Hales, Jerry Harpur, Marijke Heuff, and Andrea Jones, among others; the gardens themselves were located all over the planet"?from Canada, England, and France to Brazil, Singapore, and Australia.


"Together Roger Vandiver"?manager of design services and curator of art exhibits for the Chicago Botanic Garden"?and I looked at more than 6000 images in order to come up with the final 125,"? says Susan Boothe, manager of exhibits at the Garden. Most of these images arrived as slides or transparencies.


As they looked through the images, they kept in mind that their intent was not to just choose "glorious"? pictures. "We weren"?t going to frame them as pictures on the wall,"? says Vandiver. "What we were looking for was something extremely high quality that really shows the idea of a garden. It"?s not about making pictures"?the pictures would be the medium for conveying the idea."?


Two factors they particularly kept an eye out for in the selection process were people and dark areas"?they didn"?t want 53either of these in any image. No people, says Boothe, "Because one"?s eye tends to go to people in the scene. This allows you to just enjoy the garden and the garden"?s design without looking at someone wearing short shorts, and so on. So the viewer can really get caught up in the garden scene."?


And no images with large areas of black, says Vandiver, "Because it starts to repel you from the content of the images, and you start being aware that there"?s this large area of black in the corner, for instance, rather than just being in the garden context of the picture."?


Once they had narrowed down the initial 6000 possible images to a more manageable few hundred, these originals were sent to National Graphx & Imaging (www.nationalgraphx.com) in the Chicago suburb of Franklin Park for preliminary scanning and color correction.


Two years ago, the Garden had turned to National Graphx for an earlier exhibition, so when it came time to produce another large-format photographic exhibit, it was a natural decision to again call on the same capable staff. A 14,000-sq ft company with 14 employees, National Graphx has been in business since the early 1950s. It began as a photo lab (and used the name National Photo), but over the past few years it has expanded to cover an array of large-format applications such as P-O-P, street pole banners, vehicle wraps, museum graphics, wallpaper, retail graphics, and event signage (hence the more fitting name change).


Using its Howtek D8000 drum scanner, National Graphx produced low-res scans that were made into 10- to 12-MB files. These were then printed using its Noritsu 3011 mini-lab photo imager at 8 x 10 in. onto Kodak Ultra photo paper. Boothe and Vandiver utilized these prints to make their final selections on which images would be in the exhibit.


After the final images had been chosen, originals of the selected images were sent back to National Graphx for high-resolution scans. These were then printed at 16 x 20 in. on National Graphx"?s Oce LightJet, using Kodak Endura paper. These prints were color-corrected in Photoshop with a Kodak ColorFlow Custom Color Tools plug-in, and became the proofs the Garden signed off on for color approval.


"The most challenging part of the job,"? says Jeff Vabulous, vice president of sales at National Graphx Imaging, "was getting the color right and consistent throughout, because we were dealing with so many images. The greens in the grass had to match each other"?or at least be relatively close from image to image. And some of the images were photographed in soft light, while others were taken in harsh sunlight, etc. So the challenge was making sure that everything was consistent throughout the whole project."?


Dealing with magnificence


National Graphx not only executed the preliminary scanning and color correction, but also produced the final prints for the exhibit. The Garden probably saw no need to pursue any other company for the output task in part because of National Graphx"?s impressive array of equipment, including: an Oce LightJet 430, an Arizona


T220 flatbed, a Gandinnovations Jeti 3300, and an Italian Polielettronica 20 x 30-in. photo imager (distributed in the US by Colex). Its finishing equipment includes a Seal Image 600 and 5400 laminator, a Stimpson hand grommeter, a Hiker automated grommeter, and a Juki double-needle sewing machine.


Using the high-res files it had produced earlier in the job, National Graphx again turned to its Oce LightJet and Onyx Poster- Shop RIP to output all of the graphics onto Kodak Endura paper. When all was said and done, the full output line-up included:


"? 71 photo murals, each measuring 4 x 6 ft;


"? two vertical three-panel (4 x 6 ft) panoramic photo murals, each measuring 12-ft high x 4-ft wide;


"? one four-panel (4 x 6 ft) panoramic photo mural measuring 6-ft high x 16-ft long;


"? 11 x 17-in. labels (one for each image in the exhibition); and


"? 48 "interpretive panels"? measuring 30 x 48 in., some featuring up to three images with captions and information about the particular exhibit section the visitor is viewing.


The panoramic images were as much a result of the source material as an initial desire to simply have panoramic images. "We opted for the panoramas because, in each case, the source material was a huge transparency, and because the image couldn"?t really be cropped and still keep all the stuff in the picture that we really wanted to show,"? says Vandiver. "When you have a magnificent piece of film like that of a magnificent garden, we want to make it bigger"?so we did."?


It was at the output stage that National Graphx could again address the challenge of color consistency. The exhibit would be physically separated into several different sections: "Water: A View to the Past,"? "New Ways with Water,"? "Garden of Cosmic Speculation,"? "Materials Matter,"? "Ecological Gardening,"? "Nature in the City,"? "Individual Vision,"? "Mediterranean Gardens,"? "Tropical Gardens,"? and "Desert Gardens."? To ensure that the images within each exhibit section were consistent when it came to color, National Graphx output the individual parts of the project"?photomurals, interpretive panels, labels, etc."?in batches that paralleled these sections "because your chemistry is going to shift just slightly over time,"? says Vabulous.


Once final printing was completed, before laminating and mounting, the Chicago Botanic Garden did a last approval while 55the images were still on the 50-in. rolls of paper. "After the final prints were run, before they were laminated, I"?d take them out to the client, and they would re-approve them for a final time,"? says Vabulous. "In some cases they asked us to retouch spots that needed to be spotted, which we missed the first time."?


The final versions of the printed graphics were then mounted to "?-in. Sintra using a Seal Image 600 and 5400 laminator and Seal Satin laminate for rigidity. National Graphx also added a French cleat at the top and bottom of the backs of the mounted graphics to allow for better distribution of weight and even hanging. Two crews from the Garden did the final install.


Paradise found


The 125 final images for the "In Search of Paradise: Great Gardens of the World"? exhibit occupy the Garden"?s Regenstein Center, which includes not only 15,000 sq ft of art gallery space but also a large indoor reflecting pool.


It"?s important to note, says Vandiver, that around the building"?s exterior is a band of windows 4 ft in height, providing a view from inside the building of the lagoons that surround the Botanic Garden. The 4-ft garden images, output as bleeds with no border or frame, have been purposefully displayed on the wall in such a way that when visitors stand back to look at an image of a garden, "there"?s nothing to stop your eye at the edge of the picture"? it runs off the edge of the picture and the images become like windows or holes in the wall,"? he says.


To add to the effect, different plants and plant containers have been placed in each section that relate to each particular image scene"?further enhancing the environment. The result, says Boothe, is that you feel like you"?re there. "If you watch people, they really get lost in the pictures as if they were there themselves."


Kacey King is associate editor of The Big Picture magazine.

A French cleat consists of two separate pieces of wood, each cut at a 45? angle. The piece with the angle cut on the top is affixed to the wall with screws to hold weight. The other piece is glued to the back of what is to be hung with the angled edge facing down. To hang, just sit the glued cleat piece into the wall cleat piece, and the two cut angled edges will fit perfectly, holding the exhibited piece steady.


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