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(July 2008) posted on Fri Jul 25, 2008

In Toronto, concrete pillars become trees in a topsy-turvy photo-install job.

click an image below to view slideshow

By Angela Prues

BDI, in turn, reached out to its media supplier, 3M Canada, which immediately offered up the company’s new media, initially introduced in 2007 and specifically designed to adhere to highly textured surfaces. The 3M Scotchcal Graphic Film for Textured Surfaces IJ-8624/8624ES (the former for inkjet solutions, the latter for electrostatic) product would stick to the concrete pillars of the Gardiner expressway, and was permit-approved by the city.

Once Contact learned of the ability to apply media to highly textured surfaces, it immediately recognized its place in the photography festival’s outdoor installations. "It would enable us to push the boundaries and provoke our audience in new and interesting ways," says McInnes.

So McInnes had now assembled the solutions needed for what she saw in her mind’s eye-but the printing and installation work as mapped out would exceed the festival’s budget. Fortuitously, 3M Canada stepped in as a sponsor of the festival by donating some of the media for BDI’s print work, and also discovered company philanthropy funds to assist with the install costs. The project now had a green light.

Painstaking attention
Rodney Graham Studios provided BDI with digital files of his artwork, created from scans. BDI manipulated these in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to make them suitable for large-format output.

The proofing was executed on BDI’s 3M Scotchprint 2000 printer. "We output three full-size panels, did an install test on the actual columns, and asked Contact to approve them," says BDI’s Kelly Tsao.

Given the thumbs up, BDI moved to the final-output phase. It used its HP XL1500 and the Scotchprint 2000 to print onto the 3M media, in conjunction with an overlaminate, to produce the 15 images. Printing was done in 300 different pieces, with each pillar requiring approximately 20 panels at 4 x 5 feet each; 6000 square feet in all.

Each panel needed pre-trimming to fit into each slab on the pillars, and the panels had to align for accuracy. One particular challenge, points out Tsao: The top of each concrete column is narrower than the base. But, she says, "The only reprint that was needed was two panels that were blown off from the column before the installer had the chance to apply them." In all, from file prep to printing, lamination, and trimming, the job took a total of seven days.

The install work went to Genstar Sign & Installation ( in Toronto, recommended by 3M Canada. Owner John Kotsopoulos had established Genstar two years ago, after recognizing the need for quality, experienced installation crews for various wide- and grand-format print jobs. His team had extensive schooling in all facets of installation, including experience with 3M’s new media.

Kotsopoulos points out that the job was no piece of cake. For one, weather during installation was rainy and cold, which lengthened the process to six days, "probably 50-percent longer than we would have normally taken," he says. Another challenge was an unaccounted-for 2-inch groove in the pillars. Despite this groove and the aforementioned differently sized columns, however, there were no alignment issues with the 300 panels-but only because the install crew paid "painstaking" attention to alignment, says Kotsopoulos. When all was said and done, Genstar’s crew comprised 11 to finalize the product (some receiving supplier on-site training with the highly textured media), as well as three scissor lifts plus a 45-foot-tall working-height bucket truck.

"We had a really good team of people involved," says Kotsopoulos. "From an install perspective, you really appreciate a good job and BDI did a perfect job. The project was something that had never been done before on that kind of surface. We had fun doing it, no matter how difficult it became. We got there believing it would be a good day everyday."

Extending tree life
The blend of urban and nature turned out so well with the pillars that McInnes and Contact didn’t want the images to come down at the end of the Toronto Photography Festival.

"I’m trying to keep them up until the beginning of September. I’m working with the City Councilor’s office to extend the permit," she says.

Angela Prues is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. All images are courtesy of Contact Toronto Photography Festival.