BTS: Building and Using the Largest Film Camera in the World

Here’s an update on photographer Dennis Manarchy‘s Vanishing Cultures project, which we featured at the beginning of the year. Manarchy has just released the new video above that sheds some light on how the idea came about and how everything came together. After building the world’s biggest film camera, Manarchy has been using the “largest-format camera” to document 50 different cultures all across the United States in an epic 20,000-mile road trip. The resulting portraits will be displayed in an equally epic exhibition titled “The Vanishing Cultures: An American Portrait.”

Just as a reminder, Manarchy’s 35-foot-long camera exposes images on massive 6-foot negatives, which can then be used to make prints that are two stories tall:

A photo showing the size of the 6×4.5-foot negatives

A mockup showing the size of the final prints

This map shows the different cultures that Manarchy is using his camera to document:

Manarchy has been uploading completed photos to the project’s website gallery, where the images can also be viewed in high resolution:

At the end of the project, once Manarchy has created all of the giant prints, he’s planning to hold exhibitions for the photos all across the country — the description sounds a bit like a rock band tour:

The Exhibition will be an awe-inspiring collection of photography, film, performance, and state-of-the-art effects housed within a massive nomadic tent that will visit sites across the Unites States. Millions of attendees will witness a visual and cultural experience unlike anything seen before. Interactive displays, holograms, smoke walls, projections, sound and light shows, 24-foot portrait prints, waterfall imagery, an interior theater for documentary viewings… This incredible venue will bring people together in an entirely new way to celebrate our history and promote cultural awareness as we continue to evolve as One Nation.

You can find out more about the project and follow along with it through its official website.

The Vanishing Cultures (via ISO 1200)

Image credits: Video and photographs by Dennis Manarchy

  • Dikaiosune01

    I can’t imagine what the end result will be; but i expect it to be epic. The experience will be as large as each print made.
    On another note; imagine the difficulty of getting a lens with an image circle large enough for such a large piece of film. And I wonder how much each sheet of film costs. I don’t think i need to complain about hte rising prices of 4×5 film again.
    The cherry on top has to be when I show this to my partner. She will never complain when I want to carry my 4×5 camera out again.

  • pieefi

    crap… buy an a99 and you cn print larger

  • Sam Agnew

    “Wow! I need a bigger camera.” Only he went and DID something about it. Awesome!

  • Jesse

    I’m mostly positive this is a joke… right?

  • Jonathan Maniago

    This just begs the question: How many frames per second?

  • nik

    The question for me is if it is really worth it. The prints can get so big and massive that the quality thats in them will only be seen or even noticeable from upclose. Much also depends on the lens… I would love to see a print upclose and take in all the details as i am sure they are awe-inspiring in person. But I think I would rather take a good 4×5 and benefit from better portability, especially for a project like this.

  • nik

    but…. if the goal is to make massive prints only i guess this is the way to go..

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd

    What is BTS?

  • NA_Rules_33

    There’s something about this guy that doesn’t sit well with me. He’s setting out to make an “awe inspiring collection of photography”. Have any of you out there described your own work in a serious way as awe inspiring? It’s a little vain and definitely douchy. Seems like it’s mainly about the spectacle of himself and how awesome he is. Oh ya and some beautifully photographed native cultures. That picture with the circus tent and the mystical faces looking down on the audience says it all.

    Obviously he’s hugely talented. I love large format photography and have shot a lot of 4×5 8×10 and 7×17. It’s not like I don’t like his work or process. It’s just that I don’t think a photographer can undertake a work like this in good taste while having his larger than life persona overshadow the point of the project. This seems like less of a serious documentary work, and more of a good commercial photographer having fun and playing with an area of photography that’s a little over his head.

  • Don McMahan

    so the negatives are 6 feet high and the prints are 24 feet high……I would kind of also like to see a picture of “the worlds largest enlarger”

  • Alan

    Uhhhh…..and so you get film this big where?

  • MD

    This is EXACTLY how I responded to the video, although perhaps I’m less impressed by his work. I don’t think this project or the photographs would be worth a second glance if they weren’t made on such a ridiculous scale.

    It’ll always be easier to say “bigger, sharper” etc. than to put original, creative thought into your work. This guy is just doing what Richard Avedon (et. al.) had been doing for decades, only…bigger.

    The real kicker is that we’d been hearing about this project for months and months before the camera was even built. Art comes from an idea combined with execution, not from the idea alone. This whole thing is clearly about the spectacle over the art.

  • MD

    Exactly. He spends half the video emphasizing the importance of blending into the culture and documenting it in an unobtrusive way. So…obviously, building a truck-sized camera is the best way to do that?

    This project is only interesting from a technical standpoint. Other than that, the guy seems to be throwing in every artistic/documentary cliche and hoping people buy it.

  • elaine baker

    Too bad he could not find a vanishing culture to document from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. What about the Pottawattami or Tecumseh Indians, the great Lakes fishermen or any part of Detroit’s great past (which is almost gone).

  • Keith D

    I think it is a great project, but the camera seems to be a bit over the top.

    P.S. To all the people who are saying they are unimpressed with his work, the photos in the video and on his websites are all just TEST shots.

  • Brian

    Manarchy is trying to produce a circus show, not “document” US subcultures. There was a Kickstarter project earlier this year to try to fund the pseudo camera (what’s being shown that would go on a semi trailer), but that didn’t get anywhere near its goal.

    As for the camera itself, he does have a functional camera. He’s using film that comes on a “master” roll from either Kodak or Ilford. Normally they cut down the film. I’m guessing that he bought the tail end from a master roll. The film is held on an easel inside the camera. After it is developed, the film is scanned. There are blueprint scanners that can handle the film. Afterwards, conventional inkjet billboard printers are used to produce the final print.

    Normal 8×10 film can handle resolution like this for a two-story print, no problem. Either Kodak, Ilford, or Fujifilm would have more than enough capacity for a 1 gigapixel scan.

  • Jacob

    Haha, the negative comments here are hilarious. Pathetic actually. How many of you have dreamt this big and had the ambition to actually follow through with it? This guy has spent 12 years of his life developing the camera and project and it looks like it will blow people away. Also, if you actually take the time to read the other stories and interviews, his number one concern is to help preserve the cultures and share their individual stories. He’s actually lived with several of the groups he plans to feature. Looks to me like a much needed cultural project that could open people’s eyes. So go ahead and stay at home with your 4×5 and be critical…I’m gonna buy a ticket and check it out.

  • Stephen

    I find it funny how many naysayers there are even here…shouldn’t we as photographers be encouraging this sort of thing?!? Who cares if he’s go an ego, with photos like this, he can get away with it…

  • Smarten_Up

    Yes, please, writer Michael Zhang –please define your terms!

    BTS??? Better Than Some?