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    Above: When Bellflower, Calif., wanted to commemorate its new railroad museum, officials contacted Larry Vines, president of PhotoCrete USA. Vines started with this image when he began creating a photo-treated slab of concrete for the museum. Left: Vines washes the hardened concrete to finish the railroad museum project. Photos: PhotoCrete USA.

Larry Vines has spent more than three decades making concrete pretty.

About 31 years ago, he embarked on a career in the architectural precast industry; and 12 years ago, he founded Vines Precast Services to create planters, pavers, signs, and other decorative concrete products for parks and housing developments.

In 1998, he heard European producers were experimenting with reproducing photographs on concrete. When he observed the technology, he was awestruck.

“At that time—and still, today—I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen,” says Vines. “We spent three years exploring use of the European system, but the quality issues of importing from France were too much to overcome.”

Still, Vines saw great potential in the technology, and continued to tweak the technique and ingredients.

In 2003, he connected with a group of chemical and graphics experts to develop a new method of creating pictures on concrete. After months of false starts and failures, the team came up with a system that worked perfectly and launched PhotoCrete USA. Perfect timing: The new company emerged just as the French firm was giving up on the market, making Photo-Crete the only player in the photographic concrete game.

The process begins with a high-quality photograph or image. Vines converts the photograph to a digital black-and-white file, then boosts the contrast to get the best final results; lettering is often also added at this stage. The high-performance, self-consolidating concrete he uses consists of white portland cement; crushed black, red, or brown granite; and a number of “secret” ingredients. After hardening, the project is removed from its mold and rinsed with a high-pressure water jet to expose the underlying granules of granite at each pixel in the photograph. The contrast between the cement and the granite brings the photographic image to life.

His customers include cities that are looking for affordable, permanent ways to adorn their infrastructure.

“They see this as a way to preserve the historical aspects of their communities for generations to come,” says Vines.

PhotoCrete is working on a project for the Arizona DOT, in which reproduced drawings by Native American children depicting different facets of their culture will grace various bridges and pedestrian crossovers. Other projects include sidewalk inlays displaying historical buildings for the town of Bellflower, Calif.; a fountain base depicting the founding fathers of Durant, Okla.; and a veteran's memorial in Clifton Heights, Pa.

Based on the wide range of projects that his company has provided for public works clients and other customers, Vines feels that the photographic concrete offers endless possibilities.

“Every day, we discover new and exciting ways this technology can be applied,” says Vines. “Our future is to explore them all, and to bring a new perspective to plain concrete surfaces.