Michael Nelson Jagamara's huge mosaic Possum and Wallaby Dreaming at Parliament House was hard to photograph

Photographing a 14-square-metre artwork would be difficult at the best of times.

When that work is a mosaic on the forecourt of Parliament House, a busy thoroughfare with a huge building and a lake close by, and placing heavy equipment on the artwork is impossible, it's even harder.

Michael Nelson Jagamara, Possum and Wallaby Dreaming, from the painting of the same name. Photo: David Hempenstall

Michael Nelson Jagamara, Possum and Wallaby Dreaming, from the painting of the same name. Photo: David Hempenstall

But David Hempenstall was up to the task.

The senior photographer in the Department of Parliamentary Services is about halfway through digitising the nearly 7000 artworks in the Parliament House Art Collection.

When this work came up, he had to think hard about how to approach it.

"It's one of the most challenging ones from a resources point of view," he says.

David Hempenstall directing the crane operator to where he wants the shots of the mosaic outside Parliament House to be taken. Photo: Supplied

David Hempenstall directing the crane operator to where he wants the shots of the mosaic outside Parliament House to be taken. Photo: Supplied

The mosaic is based on Waipiri artist Michael Nelson Jagamara's 1985 painting Possum and Wallaby Dreaming, which describes a gathering of a large group of people from the kangaroo, wallaby and goanna ancestors.

The mosaic is a contemporary interpretation of the sand-painting tradition of the Warlpiri people, and has complex layers of meaning known only to Warlpiri elders.

It is made of more than 90,000 individual hand-guillotined granite setts selected to match, as far as possible, the colours in the original painting.

Hempenstall said the elements and many thousands of feet have had their effects on the "gorgeous" work since it was completed in 1988.

Before it was photographed, an art handling team cleaned and washed it, some using toothbrushes, revealing more of the work's colour and detail.

Artist Michael Nelson Jagamara.

Artist Michael Nelson Jagamara.

The photography was undertaken on Thursday, March 21 from 10am until lunchtime with the area being closed off during that time.

Because of the location and the risk of damage to the work. Hempenstall says he employed the services of Peter Daniell, who owns and operates a large camera crane.

It has an arm about 10 metres long and was elevated to a height of about five metres so Hempenstall could safely photograph the mosaic.

"I made 15 high-res photographs of the mosaic, in pieces, and composited them."

Senior collections manager Samantha Pollock says Jagamara's design was selected from 10 submitted by five Waipiri artists.

The setts, or the paving blocks which make the mosaic, she says, "were the work of three stonemasons who fabricated it over a couple of years".

Because of advances in technology and Hempenstall's thinking and skill, Pollock says, "for the first time in over 30 years we has the opportunity to digitise this 14-square-metres image all together".

She says the quality of the final digital image is "quite extraordinary".

Hempenstall will continue the digitising process and says he expects the forthcoming election result to release some pieces now held in parliamentarians' offices so they can be added to his list.

"There'll be a lot of artworks moving around the building in the next three to five months."

Much like the politicians themselves.