Photomosaics: a neoteric artform of pictures within pictures – Pixel Corner

Photomosaics: a neoteric artform of pictures within pictures – Pixel Corner – Brief Article

Russell A. Rohde


An eye-catching novel digital photographic artform called Photomosaics[TM] was born in 1996 by Robert Silvers, then a 26 year-old student at MIT who founded Runaway Technology in 1998, a commercial enterprise providing patent protection for his process, proprietary software and the source of stock and assignment images for sale. He was inspired by Ken Knowlton, a gifted pioneer artist who explored computer creation of mosaic-like images. Silvers was able to refine the innovation by drafting an algorithm for a supercomputer to access extensive photographic archives.

Merriam-Webster’s College Dictionary, 10th Edition, 1997, defines the word photomosaic, vintage 1942, as “a photographic mosaic; especially one composed of aerial or orbital photographs.” The closest germane word was photomontage, vintage 1931, describing a montage using photographic images. Going further, montage describes the “process of making a composite picture by bringing together into a single composition a number of different pictures or parts of pictures and arranging these … so they form a blended whole while remaining distinct.” But, the word mosaic is apropos and describes “the process of making pictures … by inlaying small bits … in mortar.”


Silvers’ pictures are composites using a myriad of individual pictures, often from a reservoir of many thousand, which are assembled as a two-dimensional matrix to form a new tiled image that typically features an intrinsic theme of the components. “Liberty” is composed of 2,360 photographs artfully arranged, much as are mosaic tiles, to create an image which is best appreciated at some distance, generally at arms length or even more (See Fig. 1). On closer inspection, however, each and every individual photograph comprising the scene is readily perceivable. An enlarged 12-tile section of “Liberty” is shown in Fig. 2. Silvers’ algorithm tags images for content, color and brightness and permits him to fabricate pleasing images without resorting to digital manipulation of the image brightness and hue.


These Photomosaics[TM] required Rob Silvers to develop software algorithms which could convene, from a vast reservoir of images, the appropriate color and themes. In the place of mortar, used in conventional mosaics, Silvers forged a mathematical algorithm so he could use encrypted tagged images as files with information on content and color so the pieces would fit nicely as in a crossword puzzle and minimize jagged edges, etc. Blue skies used images of planes, birds and/or water scenic while faces usually feature people and animals. His image entitled “Christ II” was created entirely of images of the Dead Sea Scrolls, while the many characters in his Disney Photomosaics[TM] were composites from films in which they were featured.

Additional Notes

Photomosaics[TM] of Robert Silvers differs from related techniques employing `pictures in pictures’ as an artform that is practiced by diverse artists making composites, mosaics and montages. Some of these artworks feature and rely upon visual ambivalences created by the use of hidden pictures, scenes within scenes, camouflage and anamorphic art as observed in works by Escher, Picasso, Dali and others.

In addition to a sizable collection of Photomosaics[TM] available for sale, Silvers offers custom services for creation of Photomosaics[TM] using the customer’s images or his own database of more than 500,000 images. His commissioned images have appeared on the covers of Life, Newsweek, Wired and Playboy magazines and have been used by more than 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. He authored two books: Photomosaics. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997 and Disney’s Photomosaics. New York: Hyperion, 1998. A gallery of his images can be viewed at his website,, and he can be reached at Runaway Technology, Inc., 129 Franklin Street, Cambridge, MA 02139.

I am indebted to Robert Silvers for granting permission to use “Liberty” for Pixel Corner. I converted the 71 MB TIFF on CD to 64 MB PSD for output via Epson Stylus color 850. Enjoy!

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