Video artist Ben Wood is using his skills as a digital image maker to uncover a piece of San Francisco’s artistic heritage hidden from view for more than 200 years. In “Through the Lens,” Spark watches as Wood, archaeologist Eric Blind and curator Andrew Galvan photograph Mission Dolores’s rare mural, which may very well be the only one of its kind in California.
Behind the Baroque altarpiece at San Francisco’s historic Mission Dolores stands a mural believed to have been a collaboration between local Ohlone Indians and Franciscan priests in 1791. The painting, executed in natural red, yellow, and black dyes on the untreated stone wall of the mission, is perhaps the best-preserved and earliest example of art from the period of Native Californians’ first contact with Europeans. The mural is dominated by two sacred hearts of Jesus penetrated by swords and daggers, which are surrounded by swirling decorative motifs believed to be Native in origin.
Working atop the redwood ceiling beams of the mission building, Wood and Blind suspend a digital camera on a network of pulleys into the narrow gap between the altarpiece and the mural. Working within only 18 inches of clearance from the mural and no ambient lighting, the team has been painstakingly photographing the entire 22-foot expanse of the mural a few inches at a time. Once the entire mural has been photographed, the two will begin the equally laborious process of organizing the images into a complete picture of the lost artwork. The final image will then be projected onto a wall of the adjacent Mission Dolores Museum.
Through the Lens
See how artists are using the camera to reveal hidden realities.