Southland photographers about to unveil world’s biggest photograph

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Courtesy UC Riverside’s Sweeney Gallery and Culver Center of the Arts

"The Great Picture," created by building a giant camera obscura in a jet hangar.

Five years ago, a team of Southern California photographers created the world’s largest photograph. They did it by building a giant camera obscura at a jet hangar at the El Toro Marine airbase in Orange County. The 30-by-111-foot Great Picture was on display there for just a few days, and later for a few weeks in Pasadena. It’s never been exhibited in this country again, until now. Soon, it’ll be suspended in the atrium of UC Riverside’s Culver Center of the Arts.

For most of its existence, the 2,000-pound image has been wrapped up like a giant scroll inside a climate controlled crate.

“It’s wrapped around a spindle that’s about 34 feet long something like that so it’s well protected.”

Jacques Garnier is one of the photographers from the Legacy Project, the team that created the Great Picture.

He spoke inside the closet sized camera obscura at UC Riverside’s Museum of Photography. This big black box is a mere fraction of the size of the one created inside an F-18 jet hangar to take the Great Picture, says project photographer Clayton Spada.

“The image is essentially the heart of the base. It’s looking out at the control towers and where the runways intersect, it’s actually the reason for being for that base, it was a military airfield.”

The Great Picture doesn’t at all resemble a standard black-and-white photo magnified by a thousand. The elaborate two-toned image looks more like a panoramic cave painting, or a desert mirage captured on film. It’s one of those, “you have to see it to believe it” things. And it’s part of an long-term effort to create a mammoth visual archive of the El Toro Marine air base as it transitions to civilian use, says photographer Doug McCulloh.

“I tell people that six of us have spent eight years out there making … probably 150,000 photographs? One happens to be the largest one in the world – but we’re trying to show some of the other ones,” he said.

The Great Picture and other photographs will be on view starting July 16 at UC Riverside’s Sweeney Gallery and Culver Center of the Arts.

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