The Big Picture’s “big picture”

This is good
. It’s the site created by 3form for Audiences Central as part of a partnership between the BBC in the West Midlands and the Arts Council.

It’s called the Big Picture 2008 and the technical jiggery pokery linking google maps, flickr and the site is dead clever.

So what’s it for? Well on the face it this is an attempt to create the world’s biggest photo montage – to pull together images from across the wider West Midlands to create one huge mash-up of what and where we are as a region. 100,000 pictures and 100,000 record breakers.
“We are painting a picture of a region full of life, humour, vitality and beauty – a really fitting picture of the West Midlands and the people in it.”

Why would we want to do that? That’s the important question.

The motivation behind this is not simply art work. My understanding is that the “big picture” part of The Big Picture is public involvement in art. Thanks to mobile phones and low cost digital cameras, photography is one of the most accessible forms of permanent art (I’d say singing is more widely accessible and colouring-in is under estimated as an art form).

So the aim is to seduce more of us into creating art and, through prizes and events, experiencing art. That’s partly why the site is also curious about who we are. The people behind it need to find out whether they’ve made an impact.

But the questionnaire that appears as you are using the site has mithered one enthusiast. Simon Hammond posted that “as I work through age, ethnicity and disability status I’m feeling myself shrinking to a data point for someone else’s ends.”

At a time when publicly held data is being liberally scattered around the planet on lost laptops and misplaced disks people are growing impatient with data gathering.
Perhaps it would be wise to use some of the elegant about space to not only say how you can use the site, but to share some of the motivation behind the site. When I know why you want my data, I can make a better decision about what I want to share.

Statement of interests: When reading this you might like to know that at the moment I’m doing some work for Audiences Central and one of the key people behind the project, Jon Bounds, also works closely with me on this site, Upyerbrum and other projects. I’ve also recently worked for the Arts Council in the West Midlands, oh and I used to work for the BBC.


  1. Thanks for the review – some interesting points here, particularly on the data capture issue. One thing to note is that we’re not attaching the information in the feedback form to your name, email address or Flickr account – it’s entirely anonymous. We’ve had a hectic first week so far, but I’ll bring this up with everyone next week.

    Thanks again!

  2. Tamar Whyte says:

    Hello Nick,

    I’m the Research Officer at Audiences Central, and I thought I’d answer some of your questions on data collection.

    As you are aware, a lot of events in the arts rely on public funding, and with the funding, come objectives. The Big Picture funders want to know that the project is reaching a wide audience, including engaging people in the arts who do not traditionally take part. The research is our way of understanding exactly who is participating in The Big Picture.

    We have tried to make the process as painless as possible: people can opt out of doing the questionnaire, or miss out questions they don’t want to answer. The FAQ on the site also explain why we are collecting the data. We have tried very hard to not let the data capture encroach on what is really important in this project, which is to engage people in a visual arts experience, which is why there is not a long disclaimer on the front page of the site, and why we have kept the survey introduction short and sweet. It is a very delicate balance and we have tried very hard to come up with a way of collecting the information required by funders without spoiling people’s experience of the The Big Picture. So far we have had a very positive response to the questionnaires, lots of people have been kind enough to fill them in.

    We understand that lot’s of people don’t like being put into a box or giving any personal details, which is why we are still listening to feedback and trying to make the questionnaire as user friendly as possible.

    Thank you for your feedback – it was constructive, well written and it is always good to hear what people think.

  3. vincent says:


    Great site with some great links and ideas.

    We’re a social enterprise working with young people to bring fresh ideas to business and we’re talking at the moment about how best to capture and tell the stories of our projects. We’d love to get some fresh thinking on the subject.

    Hope you don’t mind me posting here and we’ll happily add podnosh to our blog roll.



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