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The Great Picture at UC Riverside

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 14, 2011

Until 2006, the “world’s largest photographs” were arguably the Colorama advertising images produced by Eastman Kodak and installed in Grand Central Terminal between 1950 and 1990. As the editor of Colorama: The World’s Largest Photographs (Aperture 2005), I was intrigued by an announcement for the installation of The Great Picture at UC Riverside’s Sweeney Art Gallery.

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Installation view of The Great Picture in the Marine base airplane hanger that was transformed into a pinhole camera, 2006. Photo courtesy UC Riverside Sweeney Art Gallery/Culver Center of the Arts.

The Great Picture is a 31-by-111-foot panoramic view of a portion of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro that is in the process of being transformed into the Orange County Great Park, destined to be one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Tyler Stallings, Artistic Director of UCR Culver Center of the Arts and Director of the Sweeney Art Gallery explains how it was made in his essay for a book accompanying the exhibition.

 “The camera was a converted F-18 jet hanger that was transformed into a camera obscura, or pinhole camera – one of the oldest techniques for making images, discovered by the Chinese in the 4th century BC. It is apt that it was produced with lensless technology, only to be reproduced in the equally lensless digital realm of the internet. Its image spread around the world within minutes of completion; making it more permanent that in its original, physical state, only seen twice now.”

The Great Picture was created by The Legacy Project, a group of six photographers who saw an opportunity to make “a complex and multi-faceted statement about the history of photography, photography’s changing technology in a digital age, and the interchange between process and subject matter in the making of a photographic image,” wrote Stalling. Using the oldest photographic methodology, together with the fact that The Great Picture utilized a developing tray the size of an Olympic Swimming Pool, along with 600 gallons of developer and 1200 gallons of fixer, places this project squarely in the realm of the historic and the obsolete.

The Great Picture was created by making an exposure directly onto muslin fabric coated with gelatin silver photographic emulsion, and so it is a negative image. In its gray-scale tonality, the image also seems like a painting in grisaille, which Stalling says shares a close kinship to Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secessionists. As an object, he adds, “The Great Picture expands upon, in a most gargantuan manner, a particularly California take on photography that asks, what is a photograph?” Document, artifact, painting, monument, scientific inquiry, artistic expression – The Great Picture, according to Stalling, is all of these things.

There will be an opening reception (free and open to the public) for The Great Picture: The World’s Largest Photograph & The Legacy Project  on Saturday, July 16th at UC Riverside’s Culver Center of the Arts, 3834 Main Street, Riverside, CA. The exhibition remains on view through October 8th. More about The Legacy Project.

 “The Great Picture: The Making of the World’s Largest Photograph,” a 196-page book, to be published and distributed by Hudson Hills Press (Fall 2011), includes essays by Stallings, Dawn Hassett, and Lucy R. Lippard, and features photographs documenting this monumental project.

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