The Fundamental Units by Photographer Martin John Callanan


Photographer Martin John Callanan, a Teaching Fellow at the University College (London), an intense researcher, Editor of Leonardo Electronic Almanac and Publisher at a online artworks site called Merkske. That’s the kind of informed background he comes from.

His work over the years has included translations of “active communication data into music; freezing in time the earth’s water system; writing thousands of letters; capturing newspapers from around the world as they are published; taming wind onto the internet and broadcasting his precise physical location live for over two years.”

With scores of published and displayed works in Europe, The Americas, Asia and Australia, we loved his absolutely tech savvy project – The Fundamental Units.

With the bitcoins being all the rage and global economies facing a currency crisis here and there, countries constantly revamp or abolish their lowest denominations time and again.

Categorized as “worthless coins” in the economic setup, Callanan initiated to save all such currencies from across 166 countries. Not by taking up a anti-wipeout campaign but capturing these lost coins with his lens.

The creative series was first kickstarted with the works of Horrach Moya Gallery. The artist teamed up with the National Physical Laboratory(NPL) in U.K, that boasts off having Europe’s best 3D microscope.

The coins are photographed with 4,000 individual exposures and processed over a span of three days to produce these marvellous single photogrraphs shown below. Each of them weighs approximately 400 megapixels and measures 1.2X1.2 meteres, a good 3.9 square feet.

Martin opines that the high defination photography reveals the the “material makeup of the coin, marks and traces from their use as tokens of exchange.”

An interesting tidbit about currencies before you can check out these beautiful reproduction of coins from Australia, Chile, The Euro, Mynamar, Kingdom Of Swaziland.

Every coin the US State Treasury mints to produce 1 cent coin costs them 2 cents. Its best to undesratnd the value of the metal and the human resources that go into producing a small denomination of the currency. With people dealing everyday in millions and billions, probably the value of a cent goes unrecognized.

Do have a look at Martin’s samples below.

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Russian press on Fundamental Units

Большой интерес к маленьким монеткам. Фотопроект Fundamental Units от Martin John Callanan


Как известно, копейка рубль бережет, а с 10 центов и того больше набежать может. Жаль только, что мелкие монеты постепенно выходят из оборота. Изготавливать такие деньги слишком дорого, ведь их себестоимость зачастую получается вдвое выше номинала, и потому в ряде зарубежных стран мелочь уже практически не используют. Дабы оставить потомкам память об этих исчезающих деньгах, фотограф Мартин Джон Калланан (Martin John Callanan) и задумал свой масштабный фотопроект Fundamental Units, посвященный монетам разных валют с самым низким номиналом.

В этом проекте Мартин Джон Калланан решил собрать монеты из 166 различных стран, чтобы сохранить их хотя бы на фотографиях. Причем сделать фотоснимки наивысшего качества, предоставив любопытным людям возможность рассмотреть монетки в мельчайших подробностях, до самой последней зазубринки. Так что фотограф работал не с фотокамерой, а с 3D микроскопом с фокусировкой на бесконечность, который ему предоставили для работы в Британской Национальной Физической Лаборатории. Это устройство дает изображение с рекордным разрешением в 400 мегапикселей.

Каждую монетку фотографировали с индивидуальной экспозицией, а затем собирали все получившиеся снимки в одно гигантское изображение, обработка которого занимала около трех дней. Размер готовых фотографий составлял 1.2 Ñ… 1.2 метра. Этого оказалось достаточно, чтобы показать истинное “лицо” каждой монетки из этой мегаподборки разнообразной мелочи. Фотографии продемонстрировали все неровности, царапины и другие механические повреждения монет, следы коррозии и частички грязи, – те “шрамы”, которые оставило на их боках время.

Арт-проект Мартина Джона Калланана включает в себя фотографии таких монеток как мьянманский кьят и шведская крона, британский пенни и чилийский песо, свазилендский пятицентовик и румынский бан, польский грош и латвийский сантим, а также американские и европейские центы и другие “копейки”. Выставка больших фотографий маленьких монеток стартовала в ноябре прошлого года в Испании, в арт-галерее Galeria Horrach Moya.

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Daily Mail: Look after your pennies: microscopic pictures of world’s lowest value coins to save them for future generations

Daily Mail

Look after your pennies: Photographer takes microscopic pictures of world’s lowest value coins to save them for future generations

  • The Fundamental Units is a project by photographer Martin John Callanan
  • Used Europe’s best microscope’ to show each coin in all its worn charm
  • Comes as governments debate whether to do away with lowest value coins
  • With every battered line, scrape and knock, each coin has been rendered as individual as the many thousands of hands they have passed through.

    Now, as governments across the world debate whether to do away with their lowest value coins, one photographer is on a mission to save as many pennies as he can before they are consigned forever to history,

    Photographer Martin John Callanan is busy working on a photo project entitled The Fundamental Units – a series of extremely large prints showing the lowest value coins of countries around the world.

    He has teamed up with National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, to use ‘Europe’s best microscope’ to show each coin in all its worn charm.

    Each coin is photographed with 4,000 individual tiny exposures, and it takes three days of processing to turn the individual photos into a single composite photograph weighing 400 megapixels. Printed out, each photo measures 1.2 and 1.2 meters (~3.9 square feet).

    ‘In this sense, and in response to the dominance of macroeconomics in the discourse of the media, the artist chooses a microscopic view of the world economy.

    ‘The Fundamental Units, a series that begins with the works produced by Horrach Moyà Gallery for this exhibition, is an exploration of the lowest denomination coins from the world’s currencies using an infinite focus 3D optical microscope at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington.’

    ‘The images obtained with the microscope have been combined to form an extremely detailed large scale reproduction of the least valuable coins from Australia, Chile, the Euro, Myanmar and the Kingdom of Swaziland.

    ‘In these images the humble metal acquires a planetary dimension and is displayed as the atoms that shape the global economy.’

    There are many precedents for scrapping small coins.

    In America, the half-cent was abolished in 1857, and in 1984 the UK’s halfpenny was withdrawn.

    New Zealand and Australia abandoned the one-cent and two-cent coin in the 1990s.

    Campaigners in the US and UK also want the penny and cent coins to be consigned to history, because nothing can be bought with a one-cent or one-penny coin.

    see the full article by Amanda Williams

    Reposted on Numismatica

    Small Change Writ Large: ‘The Fundamental Units’ by Martin John Callanan


    Rain Noe at Core77 writes:

    What does that look like to you? The cave drawings at Lascaux, maybe?

    How about this one? A shield from an ancient civilization?

    Nope, these are the lowest of the world’s low-value coins, those forgotten bits of metal that keep lint company in our pockets or fill forgotten jars. Perhaps sensing that cents are on the way out, Martin John Callanan—self-described as “an artist researching an individual’s place within systems”—is photographically preserving them for posterity with his The Fundamental Units project.

    The kicker is that a regular camera wouldn’t do, not for what Callanan had in mind; so he teamed up with the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, which is that country’s national measurement standards lab, to use their infinite focus 3D optical microscope. Callanan then captured some 4,000 exposures of each freaking coin, resulting in a series of 400 megapixel images that, blown up and hanging on a gallery wall, reveal details you’d never spot on the real deal. Every nick, scratch, dent, ding and discoloration are laid bare.

    So far he’s captured cents, pesos and pence from Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lituania, Myanmar, Poland, Romania, Swaziland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, not to mention the Euro; but by the project’s end, Callanan plans to have captured “the lowest denomination coin from each of the world’s 166 active currencies.”

    see the full article

    Монеты мира, сфотографированные лучшим в Европе микроскопом

    Знаете ли вы, что для того, чтобы отчеканить монету номиналом в 1 цент, Соединенные Штаты затрачивают 2 цента вследствие стоимости материала и производства? Страны такие, как Канада уже отказались от использования монет с низкой деноминацией из-за их стоимости и бесполезности.

    Так как эти монеты “ не имеющие ценности” вызывают горячие дебаты в правительствах о том должны ли они быть упразднены, фотограф Мартин Джон Калланан (Martin John Callanan) взял на себя миссию, чтобы сохранить их…. не, как валюту, но скорее на фотографиях.

    Калланан работает над фото проектом под названием «Фундаментальные Единицы»( The Fundamental Units), который представляет собой серию очень больших принтов с изображением монет стран мира с самым низким номиналом. Цель этого проекта заключается в том, чтобы сфотографировать фундаментальные монеты 166 различных стран.

    Для своих фотосъемок он не использовал фотокамеры. Вместо этого он обратился в Национальную Физическую Лабораторию в Теддингтоне, Великобритания, в котором, как говорит Калланан, работает лучший в Европе микроскоп (3D микроскоп с фокусировкой на бесконечность).

    Каждая монета фотографировалась с индивидуальными экспозициями 4,000. Для обработки каждого изображения в отдельную композитную фотографию весом 400 мегапикселей требуется 3 дня. Размер каждого распечатанного снимка составляет 1.2 х 1.2 метров.

    Получившиеся в результате фотографии отображают материальность монет, изношенных и поврежденных коррозией.

    Coins of the World Photographed Using Europe’s Best Microscope

    The Fundamental Units

    Michael Zhang writes about the Fundamental Units over on Peta Pixel with lots of images.

    Did you know that it costs the US Mint 2 cents to produce every 1 cent coin due to the cost of materials and production? Countries such as Canada have already done away with their lowest denomination coins due to their costs and lack of usefulness.

    As these “worthless” coins cause debates in their governments about whether or not they should be abolished, photographer Martin John Callanan is on a mission to save them… not as a currency, but rather in photographs.

    Read the full article

    Peta Pixel

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    Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 14.51.04

    Excerpt Magazine issue 5

    excerpt magazine

    It seemed strange to choose a 115 year old photo for the cover of what is for the most part a contemporary magazine. Yet the more I looked at the image the more necessary it became. The image just didn’t seem old, fixed or sorted out. Nostalgia hadn’t gotten in- for nostalgia isn’t simply the past in an image but the present being invited in by it to straighten it out and know better. In the image the guard still guards, the door and stairway still lead off somewhere and the moon, embedded like a wreckers ball, makes the wall appear unnervingly permeable. 115 year later and a few people have bounced across the moons surface and there are five hundred and two million photographs when you search the moon on the internet. Just as the internet voraciously slurps up images and text, the moon continues to try to pull at anything on the earth to bring it closer, causing the oceans to slosh back and forwards. Wanting everything. Wanting what it can’t get. These thoughts intertwine as Issue 5 develops; an issue that wanted the moon and the stars. Things begin to seem vast and cryptic, the surface of a coin becomes a landscape and the funereal become something to share not bury. Across this Issue the unexpected quietly coils around the familiar and I am faced with the tautological bind that the inexplicable is what it is.- Amy Marjoram

    Download issue #5 of Excerpt Magazine (PDF)

    Along Some Sympathetic Lines, Or Gallery, Berlin

    Along Some Sympathetic Lines

    Along Some Sympathetic Lines

    Along Some Sympathetic Lines

    Along Some Sympathetic Lines

    Along Some Sympathetic Lines

    23 February – 27 April 2013
    Opening 7pm, 22 February 2013

    Or Gallery, Oranienstr 37, Berlin 10999, Germany

    Or Gallery is pleased to present Along Some Sympathetic Lines, an exhibition of artwork by London-based artist Martin John Callanan, and an archive project by curator Liz Bruchet. The exhibition considers the poetic possibilities of data and its documentation, and the tenuous process of making meaning.

    Martin John Callanan is an artist researching an individual’s place within systems. Callanan generates and reworks photographs, letters and electronic data into evidence of exchanges – between the individual, the institution and the networks of power that intertwine them. The exhibition presents four of the artist’s series: The Fundamental Units, the result of amassing millions of pixels of data, to photographs, in microscopic detail far beyond the capacity of the human eye, the lowest monetary unit of each of the 166 active currencies of world, only to enlarge and print them to vast scale; Wars During My Lifetime, an evolving newspaper listing of every war fought during the course of the artist’s life; Grounds, an ongoing photographic archive which charts ‘important places’ in the world where security restrictions limit the image to the carpeted, tiled or concrete floors; and Letters 2004-2006, Callanan’s correspondence with various heads of states and religious leaders which implicate them in conversations that question their very rationale of their authority. These acts of excavating, accumulating and visualising data draw out the sympathetic aspects within documentation and in so doing, mark and disrupt the underlying power dynamics.

    A second gallery features an archive project by London-based curator Liz Bruchet. The display of ephemera from the personal archive of the curator’s grandfather, a Canadian insurance salesman and aspiring radio presenter, takes its inspiration from a found audio recording – part monologue, part autobiography, and part radio show – made in 1974. Harnessing the impulses of the collector, archivist and biographer, the curator reasserts her role as custodian and caretaker to nurture narratives and give weight to the subjective remnants of one man’s life.

    This exhibition is curated by Liz Bruchet.

    The exhibition is possible with the generous support of Or Gallery, the National Physical Laboratory, and UCL European Institute.

    With thanks to Galeria Horrach Moya, (Hiper)vincles, Whitechapel Gallery, Book Works, David Karl, and Pau Waelder.

    Martin John Callanan: On Systems and Processes (de sistemas y procesos) arte_contemporáneo_internacional a

    Article and interview with Pau Waelder in #53

    Download the full article as PDF international_contemporary_art announces the publication of its issue #53, with the following contents:

    • Project #44: Marina Núñez, Necrosis. (2013), digital image.
    Cover and 22 inside pages. As always, an exclusive for the magazine (the originals belong to the Collection).
    Introductory text: Susana Cendán: Marina Núñez: “Everything has to do with the monsters”.

    • Reflections:
    – China’s Long March (4/10) (Zhang Fang).
    – Meschac Gaba: Trying to change African society (Abdellah Karroum).
    – A quantum reflection of Bakalhau (Cod Fish) (Fernando Galán).

    • Media Art:
    – Martin John Callanan: On Systems and Processes (Pau Waelder).

    • Interview:
    – Rafa Macarrón: “the solitude of man before the universe inmensity” (Fernando Galán).

    • Film:
    – Lipsett: a personal dilemma (Jorge D. González).

    • Work_and_Word:
    – Marco Ayres (Portugal)
    – Simón Vega (El Salvador)
    – Luis Gordillo (Spain)
    – Pipo Hernández (Spain)
    – Natxo Frisuelos (Spain)

    • Exhibitions:
    РThe sublimation of detail: Jos̩ Ferrero (Madrid) (Terry Berne).
    – Bunga: beyond space: Carlos Bunga (Santa Mónica, California, USA) (Béatrice Chassepot).
    – The descent into Marina Núñez’s hells (Valladolid, España) (Alfonso León).
    – Reinterpreting art’s recent history: Roger Gustafsson (Madrid) (Fernando Galán).
    РIf you like small things: group show (A Coru̱a, Espa̱a) (Nilo Casares).

    • Museums
    РCritical museology (2/2): On the limits of institutional art criticism (and critical museology as established discourse (Jes̼s Pedro Lorente)

    • What’s going on in… Toronto? (John K. Grande).

    • Books:
    – “La Movida”, counterculture and normalization (La Movida, au nom du Père, des fils et du Todo Vale) (Juan Albarrán). is a 100 % bilingual magazine (English/Spanish) with contributions from the world over, and aimed at the entire world of genuinely contemporary art. focuses on established art as well as the latest creative iniciatives emerging from every corner of the planet. It informs and reflects on topics of interest, but with a fresh language and crisp design which are comprehensible to both specialists and amateurs. It has over 90 specialized collaborators and correspondents covering each and every geographical and thematic area of the contemporary art world.

    Press release

    Rhizome Editorial: The Fundamental Units

    Rhizome Editorial

    How did this collaboration with National Physical Laboratory come about for your project The Fundamental Units?

    For six months I was having tests run all around the UK on different types of microscopes such as scanning electron microscopes, at different institutions, universities and testing laboratories. The Curator of Modern Money at the British Museum suggested an idea which eventually lead me to the National Physical Laboratory.

    I ended up at the Advanced Engineered Materials Group which is part of the National Physical Laboratory, using an Alicona infinite focus 3D optical microscope.

    They were really into experimenting and pushing the equipment. It took about a month of tests to get the results we see. The process involved Petra the scientist in charge of the machine writing programs to capture the data as a whole, as the machine is designed for looking in detail at one tiny part of an object. We crashed it several times working out the right solution. Each coin, which are generally around 18-20mm in diameter, take a whole night to capture. Then computers run for three days assembling the data into extremely high resolution photographic images. We are talking files too big for normal image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. Each photographic print is from files with around 400 million pixels.

    What did some of the earlier tests look like?

    Many microscopes are not optical, they don’t use light, and therefore produce results that are removed from what we generally expect to see. A scanning electron microscope, for example (attached), produces images in greyscale and the electric charge greatly emphasises dust and dirt. Clean images could be obtained though sonic cleaning and plating the coins in gold, but this started to become very removed from examining these low value tokens of exchange.

    Could you explain the choice to scan these particular coins? How did you get a hold of them?

    There are currently 166 active currencies using coins. Using online market places and by contacting national banks I have found the lowest donimation coin for each of these currencies. At the moment, at the beginning, we have imaged one from each continent. All 166 will be imaged.

    What are you working on currently?

    Well, the UCL European Institute have just (five minuets ago) awarded the research project funding to image the currencies of: Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania Sweden, and the UK.

    As well as this I’m working on several larger works including archive the hugh photograph archive for Grounds



    Big photos of little coins: National Physical Laboratory

    National Physical Laboratory (NPL) wrote:

    Martin John Callanan of the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London contacted the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) as he wanted to put together an exhibition featuring large images of the lowest denomination coins from around the world.

    Petra Mildeova from NPL’s Advanced Engineered Materials Group demonstrated that full colour images could be taken using an infinite focus 3D optical microscope. Five coins were imaged (containing over 400 megapixels), allowing coins of less than 20 mm diameter to be printed as 1.2 m diameter images.


    Martin John Callanan described the images as “really stunning” and is exhibiting them at the Galleria Horrach Moyà in Mallorca, Spain, in an exhibition entitled ‘The Fundamental Units‘ (referring to the smallest denomination of coins on display and not as a result of working with NPL, the home of fundamental constants in the UK). He now hopes to enhance his exhibition by imaging a further 161 coins, one from each of the other countries around the world that use them.


    The images have attracted interest from the British Museum and were featured by New Scientist as their image of the day on 4 December 2012.


    The mapping of large areas at very high resolution is becoming a more regular requirement. In fact, the capabilities of the microscope used to produce the images of the coins were barely stretched, as they were only in 2D. Using the Alicona Infinite Focus optical microscope NPL is able to acquire 3D datasets from large areas, which can be used to study worn surfaces on a gear, drill bit or metal punch and hence produce a detailed measurement of the volume of material lost by wear of the component. Such quantified volume measurements can then be used to determine the best material or operating practice for a given material grade.