Tuesday, June 21, 2011

John Chiara's camera obscura captures big picture | SFGate Review

John Chiara's photo of the Bay Bridge, part of the "Here" exhibition, was taken using the camera obscura, which fits in a large foam box and prints the image directly on the positive.
Thursday, June 16, 2011

"When John Chiara photographs the Golden Gate Bridge, he hauls his gear out to the Marin Headlands, sets up facing east, then climbs inside the camera and pulls the trapdoor closed behind him.

An hour later, he climbs back out with an image vast and deep enough to capture both bridges plus the skyline and the hills, set against a foreground of shimmering bay water. The picture cannot be reproduced, and neither can the camera, which fits in a black wood and foam box 8 feet wide and 5 feet tall. A lens the size of a magnum Champagne bottle is at the front, and a giant sheet of color photography paper is at the back, with room between for Chiara, who is 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, to squeeze himself in like the Great Houdini.

The Big Camera, as he calls it, is a 21st century version of an 18th century camera obscura, and he drags it around like a 19th century portrait maker. Instead of a horse-drawn wagon, the Big Camera rides on a truck-drawn flatbed trailer. Once he's parked, the camera stays on wheels as Chiara sits in complete darkness manipulating light filters to get the shade and mood he wants.

"The way it functions is very much like a daguerreotype box camera," says Chiara, 40. "It's like shooting and doing the darkroom work all at the same time, rather than separating them."

To make each picture takes half a day, plus another half day to process it in a drum the size of a small concrete mixer. To see each picture takes an appointment at Pier 24 Photography, the enormous gallery beneath the Bay Bridge on the San Francisco waterfront.

"Here," the show that opened in late May and runs at the gallery until Dec. 16, features work by just about every important photographer who either lived in the Bay Area or shot it. Represented are Robert Frank, Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, mostly from the vast collection of Andy Pilara, the gallery owner and photography benefactor. Among the 642 photos by 34 artists, the four photos by Chiara are the most mysterious."

Read full article @ SFGate

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