Patterns of People: Manipulated Photographs by Andeas Gursky, Huen Ka-long & Zhang Bojun

The three artworks on this page feature photographs of people (taken from an elevated point of view) that have been digitally manipulated to create patterns.

Zhang Bojun: We

We (我们) 12 by Zhang Bojun
We (我们) 12 by Zhang Bojun

Seen from a distance, the works in Zhang Bojun’s (张博钧) We series are attractive plaid pointillist patterns, but once you get closer, you realize each the pattern is a mosaic of thousands of photos of people!

We 12 (detailed view)
Zhang Bojun; We 12 (detail view)

In the We series (now showing at the OFOTO gallery in Shanghai’s M50 art complex), the people in the image have been photographed from the same bird’s eye angle, categorized according to color and then painstakingly photoshopped into the frame to form lovely patterns. If you look closely enough the people retain their individuality—individual faces can be recognized. Over there a hand holds up a water bottle, and there—a man pulls a large pink suitcase behind him. A few stripes of people above him, a man sporting a wild attempt at a comb-over and with a cigarette dangling from his lips strides purposefully through the red-clad crowd. Each person is at once part of the whole pattern (put there though a combination of chance and design) and an individual.

Most of the people photographed were just going about their daily routines. Life can be awfully repetitive, and this aspect of life is reflected in the process of creating the artwork. The original photos were taken over a period of seven years, and the image of each person was isolated, catalogued and then inserted almost seamlessly into a pattern.

Discussing how he came upon his inspiration for the series, Zhang writes of his experiences taking photos of commuters and travellers:

After I transfer thousands of hundreds pictures I took everyday to computer, I notice that these crowds in big density are just like ants, and I am one among them, too tiny to neglect. I hence start to bring this sensation to the trajectory of my work creation, I started to separate people’s figure from photos, removed and match up them, which totally changed the initial motivation of taking their pictures.

Everyone is a Mirror of Mine

Zhang Bojun’s conceptual photography isn’t merely about repetition, isn’t merely about process. Look closely enough, and we are all individuals; each one of us is unique. Pull back a little and we become anonymous, lost in a sea of faces. Pull back a little more and perhaps something beautiful emerges—a sense that our life is part of a greater pattern, a greater purpose, a greater beauty.

This process of using a database of elements and then creating composition images from them is also used by Chilean artist Cecilia Avendaño, but she uses elements of different individuals to create composite portraits. Her artwork is discussed in my blog post: Cecilia Avendaño: Digital Composite Portraits.

Mini-bio: Zhang Bojun was born in Heilongjiang, China in 1964 and is now base in Beijing. He is best know for his works that involve extensive compositing of photographed images. 

Huen Ka-long: 1 fps

Huen Ka-long; 1 fps (2017, manipulated digital photograph, inkjet print); CityU BA in Creative Media Exhibition

This is part of a series of works showing the patterns of pedestrians crossing the street at intersections in different districts in Hong Kong. The work was done as part of Huen Ka-long’s studies in the BA in Creative Media programme at City University of Hong Kong. I came across this photo at an exhibition of student work at the university’s School of Creative Media in 2017. As the title implies, the work was created by taking photos at one-second intervals and digitally manipulating the images to create a composite image showing the path of each pedestrian

If you are wondering why some people are walking diagonally across the intersection, it is because at many Hong Kong intersections, there are five light changes in each cycle: green lights for each of the four directions of traffic (northbound, southbound, eastbound and westbound) and one green light for pedestrians only.

1 fps (detail view)

In the image, the pedestrians seem to be keeping at quite a regular pace, with only the woman wearing a red t-shirt slowing down slightly as she approaches the other side of the street. What I find most interesting is that the people do seem to be making an effort to keep some personal space around them. This is most noticeable in the gently arcing trajectories of the old man carrying a cane and the woman in a striped black and white shirt. As they approach each other; they move away from each other ever so slightly to give each other just a little more space.

Andreas Gursky: Nha Trang

Andreas Gursky: Nha Trang (2004, manipulated photograph); Venice Biennale 2015

Andeas Gursky is a well-known German digital artist. He specializes in creating large photographic images that have been subtly manipulated to greatly expand the scale of the subject of the photograph. He often works with themes related to capitalism, wealth and commerce. I came across a print of this image at the Venice Bienalle in 2015. Created in 2004, the image is of a cane furniture factory in Nha Trang, Vietnam. The image is composed of a series of rectangular shots of the factory that have been stacked up vertically and that are separated by images of black power cables. The resulting work makes the factory seem oppressively large, with a massive number of near identical orange-uniformed workers stretching far into the distance.

If you look at the scene from a distance, the theme seems to be of exploitation—an army of developing-world laborers trapped in a giant factory. If you look more closely, however, you can see the individual workers are…just that; they are individual people using cane to create hand-crafted furniture. The environment is chaotic, with pieces of cane everywhere, but the workers are not like robots. They can be seen talking to one another and helping each other as they go about their work.

Nha Trang (detail view)

In Zhang Bojun’s We, you need to pull back to see the pattern, but in Andreas Gursky’s Nha Trang, you have to look closer to see the humanity.

Mini-bio: Andreas Gursky was born in Leipzig in 1955. He studied at the Folkwang University of the Art and the Düsseldorf Art Academy. He is best known for his large-scale composite photographs of landscapes and architecture.

Go Further

This section includes links to online photo galleries and websites, discussion questions and an art challenge.


To view the images at a higher resolution (2048 x 1365), you can go to the following galleries:


Three Questions

  1. The photos of Andreas Gursky, Huen Ka-long and Zhang Bojun were all created from photos shot from above. What effect does the high camera angle have?
  2. What do you think the text (“Man is a hungering gaze that seeks another image behind everything he sees, that original image that we lack.”) in Cecilia Avendaño’s artwork means?
  3. If you wanted to show a people in a kind of pattern, where would you go to take photos? Why?

Art Challenge

Let’s try one of the following:

  1. Camera + Photoshop: Try to emulate one of the above techniques.
  2. Video + video editing program: Find a good vantage point where you can see people coming and going. Using a video camera on a tripod, record the scene. Speed up the footage. Alternatively, you can try a long exposure shot.
  3. Camera: Use a camera on a tripod and use long exposure techniques to blur the movement of people (e.g.,
  4. Camera + video editing program: Try creating a timelapse video showing pedestrian flow.

~ text and photos by longzijun


Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists

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