Cover Stories: issue 105 by Sean Conway


When Sean Conway attended university to study accountancy, a poster he spotted explaining the concept of geography information system (GIS) mapping led to a sudden change of direction. Cartography, specifically ortho-imagery – essentially aerial or satellite photos utilised by the likes of Google Earth – became his obsession and his career. 

Accountancy’s loss was cartography’s gain, we suggest. “I think so too,” says Sean from his home in Kentucky, as we discuss the process behind producing this amazingly detailed 3D image of the 4,158-metre Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps.

He began experimenting with the technique a year ago, taking vintage maps and overlaying elevation detail and georeferencing data to form unique works of art that elevate the beauty of cartography to another plane. Six months later, he had mastered the software and was ready to produce prints of amazing locations worldwide.

Why Switzerland, we wondered? “The Swiss led the way in artistic but informative maps. They developed the whole hill shading technique in 2D, so I am taking what the original Swiss cartographers were intending – a realistic hill shade to the maps – but adding 3D shadows to it.”

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The question begs to be asked: does Sean use an old school map when out exploring, or some kind of GPS device? “I don’t take anything. My daughter and me like to drive out into the country and, if we see an interesting road, drive down it and explore. If you have a device with you, you can always turn it on as back up, but there’s usually someone to ask if you are totally lost.”

Hurrah for maps. And for exploring the unknown.

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