Giant Cameras

A Watkins view of Yosemite Valley

I know I am not alone in my fascination with giant cameras. Over a hundred years ago landscape photographer Carleton Waktins trekked into uncharted areas of California’s Yosemite Valley with a 75 pound camera and all the necessary elements to make enormous liquid plate negatives on site. (he had help). Photographic commitments such as this, in order to capture and archive the highest possible resolution of a given image has remained a photographers dream all along the way.

The 75 pound camera
One of my early 4×5 images

For me it never got past the 4×5 negative, early on in my appreciation of art photography I was introduced to the work of Berenice Abbott and Hiroshi Sugimoto. In Sugimoto’s earlier work I was amazed at the idea for his Theater series that the only means of exposure was to let the film that happened to be playing, run in its entirety while the shutter was left open. For Abbott it was the shear magnitude of her craft, she is my personal favorite and if you want to why and see one of her cameras that I actually held in my hands, check this out. Sugimoto and Abbott, two very different photographers, but both worked in 4×5 (or larger) format and both were impeccable technicians while taking the image and in post processing. This appealed to my sense of technique, form follows function, gadgetry, etc. I still hold these two photographers in my tops.

Berenice Abbott

When you work in a 4×5 format or larger, you get to use a field cloth, that black drapery you hide under in order to view, compose and tweak you image before blindly striking the shutter. This time, under the hood is what I feel drives photographers to bigger and more robust cameras, it is an ineffable feeling of being one with your image. I get to experience it at work when I am a operating a camera for movies, but this is different when you are alone, and it is only you and your image. It looks like another world under there, the outside disappears, sounds are muffled, it is just you and your image. It never gets better than that in my opinion and I think part of what photographers who delve into the world of giant cameras are looking for, to share that feeling with the outside world through size. Below are some giant camera photographers I thought I would share with you.

Today the field of giant imagery is mostly relegated to the realm of digital manipulation and the ever increasing, exponential pixel count. Gigapixel cameras and frame blending techniques are now in the hands of the casual iphonographer. If you would like to check out one of the better known gigapixel photographers, see Will Pearson’s work. But as in any art form, there are purist to whom I often find myself intrigued and fascinated by.

Clifford Ross with his R1

Clifford Ross is a photographer that I fell into when I saw his book of crashing waves that I loved called Wave Muisc. While looking into who he was I found he had a project called the R1, a camera that he built in order to take the highest possible resolution image of a view he fell in love with. The idea being to share his experience with people who were looking at photo as if they were actually there. On his site you can see an image and zoom in ALL THE WAY, and watch a documentary about his process with the R1

I also stumbled upon a photographer who has done wonderful work with camera obscura, sometimes making entire rooms of a building into the light box. Aberaldo Morrell work takes me to another realm of feeling as though I am experiencing the image making process from the inside, because in essence the image is the camera what you see is the image making process before your eyes.

Albelardo Morrell’s room with a view

Chris McKay with his big babies

Then there are the renegades. Chris McKay home made steampunk-ish large format cameras he uses in his Sunburn series.  but the images of his home made, steampunk giant cameras enthrall me and made me a fan for sure. Ian Ruhter is another renegade who is having a lot of popularity right now using his step van giant camera to capture gorgeous collodian prints on site. He put out this video below is a video (if not a bit overly conceived) that shows the process and some of the results, the images speak for themselves and are moments in time that only a giant camera and good old chemical emulsion can process.

Ian Ruhter Camera Truck

Another retro looking device that I know nothing about is Dennis Manarchy as part of his Vanishing Cultures project. A 35 foot long camera that he is traveling the country with caravan of imagery. While looking him up I also discovered Darren Samuelson‘s 70 pound behemoth

That is it for now, but as I find more Giant Cameras I will certainly be adding there here.

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Who me? Well, Uh, I used to have a website (still do) that I love(d) and always wanted it to be pretty much a blog, even though blogs did not exist when I started the site. Like a daily newspaper of all things Hank is the way I always looked at it. So now, I crumbled and have a blog like the rest of humanity.
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