At 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, the pages of the book photographer Brian Taylor is preparing for the public art piece entitled “Redwood City Pages” dwarf those of the books most people are used to reading.
Filled with images of Redwood City residents and businesses as well as city landscapes, the scenes included in the 20-page book project the Carmel Valley-based artist has been working on for the better part of the last year are, in part, meant to capture scenes from the city’s 150 years of history.
Funded by the Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation, the committee responsible for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration and other local businesses and community groups, the project slated for installation in a room at the downtown Redwood City library will cap off the city’s yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary.
But Taylor is also hoping the book invites viewers to interact with and experience the scenes, which include the city’s open marshland, small business storefronts and large redwood trees, among others. Viewers can participate in the piece by turning the wood-framed pages — which will span some 6 feet across when the book is laid flat — and taking them in up close and from a few steps away, , said Taylor.
“Interactive is one word where people can open the pages … but I’d also say it’s experiential in that you could walk into these scenes … It would fill your field of vision,” he said.
But when the piece is unveiled Feb. 8, it won’t be the first time residents have engaged with it. They have actually been contributing to its creation since July, when the sesquicentennial committee hosted papermaking and photography workshops at the library. With residents participating in more than 10 workshops, Taylor collected hundreds of textured papers and cyanotypes — blue images made from laying objects over photo paper in the sunlight — residents created at the workshops and contributed to the project.
“The residents were really excited to know it would be permanently on display,” he said.
With years of experience as a photography professor at San Jose State University and as the executive director of Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, Taylor said his background in visual arts guided his approach to the project. But he said he made sure not to determine what the piece would look like too early in the process to allow for resident contributions and months of photographing Redwood City residents and scenes to play a role in developing the 10 narratives he’s aiming to portray in the book.
“This has been an ever-changing project,” he said. “I aspire to say as much as I can with a limited number of chapters.”
Images and artifacts
Taylor said he attended Redwood City events and made trips to the city and its historical archives, capturing thousands of images and seeking out historical artifacts. He said learning more about the city’s indigenous people at the San Mateo County History Museum inspired him to fasten arrowheads on a photo of the city’s marshland to portray what the city might have looked like well before it was incorporated in 1867.
Taylor has been pleased that working with community members, an advisory committee for the project made up of city officials and residents as well as Fung Collaboratives has not gotten in the way of his ability to create art. Fung Collaboratives is an arts organization focused on collaborative projects between artists of a variety of backgrounds. Lance Fung, classically trained artist and chief curator for Fung Collaboratives, said he’s looking forward to seeing the piece’s interactive elements and high artistic quality come together in Taylor’s piece.
Fung has also been working on charting a public art master plan for Redwood City, holding workshops with artists and residents to scope ways the city can facilitate public art. Acknowledging that viewers may not love every one of the images included in the book project, Fung is hopeful that viewers will connect with some of them and that it will spark further conversations about what public art is.
“We hope that these images … are the touchstone for people to say what’s that?” he said.
Though Derek Wolfgram, the Redwood City Public Library director, is keenly aware of the logistics involved with mounting a large book to a wall of what is currently a quiet reading space on the first-floor room in the downtown library, he is looking forward to seeing how residents interact with the piece when it is installed. Having hosted several of the workshops and sesquicentennial events in the past year, Wolfgram said he’s enjoyed seeing residents engage with their city’s history, adding that the proximity of historical resources to the project’s location is a natural fit.
“I think there’s a great fit for this piece in the library,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for people to learn more about anything that they get inspired about in looking at the artwork right here.”
As sesquicentennial committee co-chair and a member of the city’s Parks and Arts Foundation, former mayor Barbara Pierce said she is excited to see a piece that will permanently commemorate the city’s 150 years of history.
“The goal … was really to have something lasting and to celebrate the anniversary,” she said. “We wanted it really to reflect the residents and the city.”
Pierce said the Parks and Arts Foundation is looking into creating an iPad guide that could accompany the piece with photos from Taylor’s collection that did not make it into the book as well as historical context for some of the images.
Though Taylor will be busy in the weeks to come, he is excited to work with the many images and textures he’s collected to create a piece of art all members of the community can feel they’ve had a hand in.
“I really believe that a handmade work of art carries the touch of the person who made it,” he said.
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