Making The Great Picture



The world record photograph—32 feet by 111 feet—in place in the shuttered F-18 jet hanger transformed into the world’s largest camera to make the image.

The entirety of Building #115 at the abandoned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Southern California was transformed into a massive camera.

The effort to make the building into a light tight camera required hundreds of volunteer and thousands of hours.

Twenty-five people test-raised the photograph’s canvas base -- unsensitized -- into place inside the camera; total weight: 1,200 pounds.

The canvas was sized with 60 gallons of scientific-grade gelatin.

After extensive calculations, conjecture, and testing, a camera obscura aperture of 6mm was selected, the final aperture milled from extremely thin titanium sheet.

For a time, the building was a tremendous light sculpture. After twenty minutes of becoming accustomed to the extremely low light, the image glowed luminously on the huge suspended fabric.

Six photographers masterminded the art undertaking. From left to right in this 20 minute exposure: Mark Chamberlain, Rob Johnson, Jacques Garnier, Clayton Spada, Jerry Burchfield, and Douglas McCulloh.

The first row of test strips being hung on the canvas surface from the precarious top of an 18-foot ladder.

The group was operating at a scale never before achieved, so huge test strips became the only way to determine exposure.

A huge developing tray was constructed using a custom piece of vinyl pool liner -- the scale of an Olympic swimming pool but just six inches deep.

Ninety volunteers turned out to develop the great photo, using eleven high volume pumps and 55-gallon drums of chemistry. Elaborate charts orchestrated the effort. Developing the photograph used 600 gallons of developer and 1,200 gallons of fixer.

Two high volume fire hydrants were used to wash the photograph.

A celebratory note is penned in the sign-in book that, in keeping with Guinness Book record requirements, had been posted for months at the hanger entrance.

The photograph is a remarkable object. The hand-applied emulsion and camera obscura approach reach back to the beginning of photography, marking a complete circle as film-based images are replaced by pixels.