About this project

In 2014, media magnate Kerry Stokes revealed to the world that he was the mystery buyer of the most expensive book in history – the Rothschild Prayer Book. The next year, I was contacted by the curators of his extraordinary private art collection to capture the book in 4K resolution. Mr Stokes had decided to publicly display the book at the National Library of Australia later in the year. Security concerns meant the book had to sit inside a bullet-proof case, open to one set of facing pages, for the three-month duration of the exhibition. He wanted to give people a chance to view the incredible detail of the illuminated manuscripts inside the book, some details having been painted with brushes the width of a human hair. I took DP Brad Francis to Perth with a 5K RED camera and my motion control system. We shot every page of the book being turned by hand from multiple angles.

The next challenge was how to display this incredibly detailed content. Kerry had purchased two 85″ 4K TVs with the intention of hanging them vertically side-by-side. The trick was finding a method to feed the content to the screens with a robust solution that would run seamlessly 24/7 for three months. 4K digital signage players had just come to market, so I had about a week to learn how to program H.265 content into them and slave two players together indefinitely. As a result, the screens were fed by hard-wearing solid-state players designed to run for years at a time. The exhibit was a huge success and ran for three months without skipping a beat.

After the launch of the NLA exhibit, I found myself in a meeting with Kerry, his wife Christine, and the director of the National Gallery of Australia. They asked me if I had any ideas for what to do next with the content. I blurted out some vague notions I’d been mulling over the night before, and suggested I might be able to miniaturise the display using Pico projectors. My goal was to create the illusion of the pages being turned by an invisible hand. Next thing I knew, his team had made me a blank replica of the book and I was prototyping my ideas. I used one projector for each facing page, and a third to project didactic information onto the glass of the custom display cabinet. A strip of 3M rear-projection film across the top of the glass served to catch the light and make it legible. This required synchronising three digital signage players.

The next exhibition of the book was to be at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. So, I took the components to Melbourne and lined up the projection mapping on-site in the museum. In addition, I worked with a team of programmers in the weeks prior to create a custom 4K touchscreen catalogue that could display the wide range of artefacts and paintings from the Kerry Stokes Collection that would also be exhibited.