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How We Built Bertha: A Giant Camera that Will Shoot the Largest Slide Ever Made


It’s called Bertha, and it will be the protagonist of the largest slide ever made. A gigantic camera born out of a desire to find out what photography can reveal when it’s pushed beyond certain limits.

From the first moment I started experimenting with photography, I sensed that the possibilities were infinite: past and present can merge, just as old and new technologies, and historical knowledge can find contemporary interpretations.

This camera—which has a sensitive area of 1.1 × 1.1 meters (3.6 x 3.6 feet), a bellows draft of about 4 meters (13.1 feet) and a 1000mm f/6.3 lens—is capable of taking portrait photographs in macro mode. In fact, at the maximum extension of the bellows, the magnification ratio reaches 3:1—that is, the subjects can be photographed with a final size up to three times greater than the real one.

I studied this measurement to obtain a close-up that could fill a sensitive area of over one square meter!

The first tests turned out to be a surprise. I discovered that, at the maximum draft of the bellows, the depth of field with a fully closed diaphragm is about 4cm: a real challenge to manage a photo shoot of this type.

Bertha was designed and built almost entirely by the Branco Ottico crew, with the exception of the part relating to the ground glass and film holder, for which we relied on a professional in aluminum frames.

The whole frame supporting the large camera is modular and made entirely of heavy metal to support movements without losing stability. It was designed by Branco Ottico crew member Donato Rizzo, an expert in mechanical processing.

The main idea is to use the gigantic camera to create unique works with the chemical process we have developed, the ROBA APPOSTA inversion kit, which is able to positively reverse all photographic papers and black and white films.

For the shots, we will use both photographic paper and film in rolls 1-meter in width; for development, we are equipped with a mobile darkroom that we use when shooting outdoor portraits, live performances and photographic events.

The first tests are scheduled for the next few days, and we will perform them with a 50x60cm back reduction.

We will program the photographic shot on a slide of over one square meter for the first months of 2020, then we will take a tour with Bertha and our mobile dark room to portray subjects “on the road” on direct photographic paper.

Image credits: Davide Rossi is a fine art photographer with over twenty years of photographic experimentation experience. In addition to working as a professional photographer, he runs courses and workshops in film photography, including working in the darkroom and making wet prints. You can find out more about Davide on his website or by following the exploits of the Branco Ottico crew. This article was also published here.