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Lighting up the Disraeli

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Bernie Miller is helping Winnipeggers look at photography in a whole new way.

The Crescentwood artist’s latest public artwork, Light Through, was revealed as part of the new Disraeli Active Transportation Bridge, which links Elmwood and Point Douglas, earlier this month.

Light Through is a collection of, currently, 15 photographs that were recreated on steel structures hanging on the piers of the old Disraeli vehicular bridge. Of those, eight are historical photos, and seven are what Miller calls a modern "response" by local photographer William Eakin. Eakin took photos of cyclists at the bridge’s grand opening on Oct. 3, and one of the shots will be used to round out the project on the bridge’s northernmost pier.

"It will soon be that even current-day photographs are historic," Miller said. "So I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool, as a kind of time capsule, to have half of the images as archival, and half as a contemporary response to that?’"

The selected photos range from the construction of the original bridge in 1959 to a view of downtown from the bridge to cyclists crossing the bridge as part of a bicycle rally.

Miller acknowledged there was some consternation over how to make the outdoor work hold its effect for all 24 hours, but drew on the myth of Icarus.

"You can’t compete with the sun," he said.

He later embraced the "sci-fi" effect they seem to have during the day before being lit up at night.

"You have the daytime where it just looks like industrial stuff," said the 65-year-old, who is originally from Toronto. "I started to see that I was just digging in my heels, and I warmed to that moment of magic of ‘Hey, I didn’t know that was a photograph — I wonder what that’s a photograph of.’"

Miller has been working in the medium of perforated panels for several years, including a collaborative effort of a world map at the Edmonton International Airport with Toronto architect Alan Tregebov.

To get into the style, he initially worked with a low-resolution photo with drafting software and then applied some basic mathematics to figure out where the perforations should go.
Miller would use the drafting software to see where there were either trends of large amounts of black or large amounts of white in the photo. Working with the idea that lighter areas will have more holes, Miller then set to work finding the way the photo is best represented.

Eventually, Miller figured out an algorithm for the design, and created his own software simplify the process.

Once the circles have been designed, the file is then set to a punch-press operator, who must put together a strategy that is an art in itself.

"They need to see the actual, done images to come up with a course of action," Miller explained. "If you just start punching row-by-row, you build up a lot of tension in the sheet and it starts to curl up."

Miller moved to Winnipeg a decade ago, as living in Toronto was no longer an option for his wife, who has severe asthma. The pair settled on Winnipeg after finding several artists in Toronto had roots here.

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