At 11 stories wide and three stories tall, the world’s largest photograph has returned to its Orange County birthplace for the first time in five years.
In 2006, a team of six photographers collaborated on the Great Picture project. They turned an F-18 hangar at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro — known nowadays as the Orange County Great Park — into a pinhole camera.
An exhibition telling the story of the many steps in the photo’s creation as part of the park’s Legacy Project — an ambitious artistic effort to document El Toro’s transition from an air base into a public park through photographs, film and sounds — opens this weekend at the Great Park in Irvine. The public can attend an opening reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Great Park Gallery.
More than 200,000 pictures taken of the base before, during and after the transformation will go into the park’s permanent collection of photographs, said Henry Korn, manager of arts, culture and heritage for the Orange County Great Park Corp.
The exhibit will include some new installations made individually by members of the team of six photographers, although one of them, Jerry Burchfield, died of cancer in September 2009. In 1973, Burchfield co-founded the BC Space gallery in Laguna Beach with fellow photographer Mark Chamberlain, who was one of the five others on the Great Picture project. The other photographers involved in making the photo were Jacques Garnier, Rob Johnson, Douglas McCulloh and Clayton Spada.
One of the new pieces is an audio installation by Garnier, who placed microphones in buildings around the former base to pick up sounds made inside them. Some of the resulting noises sound like muffled booms.
The Great Picture, which was taken on one piece of fabric imported from Germany, will only be partially visible at the exhibit because there isn’t enough room in the gallery to unfurl the whole thing, officials said.
Most of the picture is rolled up on a spindle inside a crate parked in the middle of the exhibit space. The picture’s edge is visible from behind the open crate. Visitors, however, will be able to see a smaller reproduction.
The giant picture has arrived back in O.C. after being displayed in full at UC Riverside. This past spring, the photograph was shown at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
A smaller model of the camera obscura, which took the picture, has been re-created and installed in the Artist Studios across from the gallery in the park’s Palm Court arts complex. People can walk inside the camera to see how basic photographic principles work.
Light comes into the darkened room through a pinhole or aperture. If you stand inside the room for long enough, eventually you will see an upside down and backward image of what’s happening on the other side of the pinhole projecting through the hole and onto a white wall.
The principles that went into creating the photo by camera obscura are about 3,000 years old, Chamberlain explained, as he accompanied reporters inside the camera. He noted that the Latin term “camera obscura” means “dark room” in English.
Preparing for the picture was labor-intensive, time-consuming and complicated, although the process of taking the picture only took 35 minutes, Chamberlain said. Turning a hangar into a pinhole camera proved to be a daunting task because the team of artists had to make sure that the building was entirely sealed and darkened, and that no light was leaking through except for via the camera’s aperture.
“Your eye is a camera obscura,” the photographer said. “It’s just a dark space with a pinhole on it and a receiver on the back side, but we had to make our receiver out of one piece of fabric.
“We got the largest piece we could get. It came from Germany and then we coated it with a light-sensitive material and that was it. It’s very simple in its concept but it got, of course, enormously complicated in reality.”
If You Go
What: “The Great Picture: The World’s Largest Photograph & The Legacy Project”
Where: Great Park Gallery, Palm Court Arts Complex, Orange County Great Park, Irvine
When: Saturday through Jan. 29
Gallery hours: Noon to 4 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays
Camera Obscura hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays only
For more information: Go to https://www.ocgp.org.