Walk into the massive air hangar and the first thing you notice is an oppressive darkness broken only by a tiny beam of light from a gumball-size hole in the wall.
Then, as the eye adjusts, an upside-down image emerges on the opposite wall that is startling in its clarity — a dilapidated air traffic control tower, an overgrown runway and palm trees clustered amid rolling hills.
Once home to roaring fighter jets, this decommissioned Marine Corps hangar is now the world’s largest camera poised to take the world’s largest picture.
If all goes well, within days the hangar-turned-camera will record a panoramic image of what’s on the other side of the door using the centuries-old principle of “camera obscura.”
An image of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station will appear upside down and flipped left to right on a sheath of light-sensitive fabric after being projected through the tiny hole in the hangar’s metal door. The fabric is the length of one-third of a football field and about three stories tall.
Living inside the camera
Guinness World Records has created two new categories for the project — world’s largest camera and world’s largest photograph — and will certify the records once the photo is complete.
“This project is about being deep inside photography, in the sense that you can walk inside the camera. It’s the origins of photography and we’ve been living in it for weeks at a time,” said Doug McCulloh, a photography teacher at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
On Wednesday, the six photographers with the nonprofit Legacy Project unveiled their massive camera at a news conference. They hope to have a photograph completed by July 8.
The photographers are using a nearly 31-by-111 foot piece of white fabric covered in 20 gallons of light-sensitive emulsion as the “negative.”
After exposing the fabric for up to 10 days, they will develop it in a huge tub made of pool siding, using 200 gallons of black-and-white developer solution and 600 gallons of fixer.
Hangar to be demolished
The photographers joke that they are also making the world’s largest disposable camera. When they are done, the hangar will be torn down.
“The whole topography, this flat view across to the coastal hills, will be gone,” said Jerry Burchfield, a photography professor and gallery director at Cypress College. “The view will be gone, and the camera will be gone, too.”
Developers plan to build a 375-acre park, museum district, sports complex and thousands of homes on the base, which was decommissioned in 1999 after more than a half-century of use.