History of Photo Mosaics


My work on a 1992 Kodak television commercial led me to invent the idea of assembling meta images out of mosaics of smaller, often thematically related images – Photo Mosaics.


The computer animation department which I ran at R/Greenberg Associates in Manhattan was called upon to create the illusion of a stadium full of “flipping cards” for a 1992 Kodak television spot. (dir. John Clive for agency Young & Rubicam)


Once I developed the necessary software, I became interested in pursuing other uses for it.

I was aware of the work of artist Chuck Close, who had been creating large faces out of arrays of swirling abstract images, and I wondered if I could do something similar, only with hundreds of actual photographs.


My goal was always to use hundreds or thousands of tile images. Initially, however, this option wasn’t in the budget. We used highend Manhattan prepress agencies in order to acquire our images then, and they charged — if you can believe it — $250 per scan. Since getting a slide digitally scanned was so expensive, I was often limited in the beginning to a mere 6 or so images, at a cost of $1500! This is one of the disadvantages of being first.

With those kinds of budgetary constraints, I had to design the software so that if fed an insufficient number of source photos, it would cause each photo to do color-corrected “double duty” to fill out the larger photo.

Above is the first such image produced by my software. It was created early in 1993 as a poster for a then yearly event called Live From Bell Labs. In this whimsical composition designed by Ryszard Horowitz with additional photshop compositing by Robert Bowen at R/GA Print, Nobel laureate Arno Penzais juggles objects on the left while Penn Gillette of Penn & Teller balances the photo mosaic on his nose.

Each photo is mapped with transparency-controlling alpha channel onto a flat card, allowing for the off-axis 3D overlap effect you see here.

We could tell right away that the technique was going to be popular, and we started getting requests for “themed” compositions.


I created this custom image at the request of editor Rita Street for the Winter 1993 issue of Animation Magazine. Notice the coffee cups and reels of film (and giant floppy discs!) — all tools of the trade for the animator of 1993.

This image was also reprinted in the November 1994 issue of Wired Magazine, p. 106.

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