How The Great Picture Happened

Everywhere you look, you see printed billboards, wall art, and other forms of printed media from wide-format printers. But none of these images come close to The Great Picture, which holds the Guinness World record as the largest print photograph composed as one single image. How big is it? Measuring 111 feet wide and 32 feet high, it was created using an airport hangar as a giant pinhole camera. We wanted to delve into the history and construction of this truly remarkable printed image.

The Idea for the Great Picture

The Great Picture was conceived through the Legacy Photography Project. Based out of California, this project seeks to provide a photograph record of the history of the now decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which was located in Orange County and held the largest collection military aircraft during World War II.

The idea for the photograph was developed by Jerry Burchfield, a photography instructor at the nearby Cyprus College, who worked with the government between 2004-2006 to secure access to the facility as part of The Perimeter Project. Given the size of the facility, Burchfield wanted a photograph that could appropriately capture the surrounding landscape. After receiving approval from the government, he worked with a team of students to covert Building 115 into the camera that would take The Great Picture.

Getting the Camera Ready

Building 115 was one of the many hangers that was used during El Toro's History. For several months, the team had to stop any light from entering the hanger. Given that they were converting this hanger into a pinhole camera, which is a simple camera without a lens, any outside light would prevent any image from being created. In order to do this, they used 24,000 square feet of plastic sheeting, 1,300 gallons of foam filler, and 1.5 miles of reinforced Gorilla Tape.

From a pinhole, the team hung a muslin cloth coated with silver halide, a substance that makes it more sensitive to light. After conducting a series of tests, they determined a 35 minute exposure period to the light would produce the highest quality image. On July 8, 2006, after months of hard work, the picture was taken.

Producing & Displaying the Image

With the picture taken, a team of 80 volunteers then developed the image into a negative. Using an Olympic sized pool designed specifically for the occasion, the team used 1,800 gallons of processing liquid to develop the image. In order to wash and prepare the image for display, fire hoses were brought in. The end result was an image measuring a staggering 3,505.75 square feet.

In September 2007, the image was first presented to the public at the Art Center of College Design in Pasadena, California. Since this initial display, it has traveled to Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, China and the University of California at Riverside. To this date, no other image has come close to matching its size as one continuous image.

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