Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The 40 X 80 Museum Camera

Joe McNally Museum Camera set up with a Fireman for "Faces of Ground Zero" series
Often known as the “Moby C” or as the “Museum Camera” when it was in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the 40 X 80 camera was invented by the founder of Polaroid, Edwin Land. According to the Stanley Rowinphotography blog, other 40 X 80 cameras “were built around the world, on the fly, with the “room” usually created out of rolls of black vinyl supported by scaffolding.” The camera measured 12’ X 16’ and could produce detailed life-size photographs in about two minutes. The cameras employed existing Polaroid films including Polacolor ER film, Polapan black and white film, and Polacolor PRO film. According to lore, the lens came from a U2 spy plane. In order to focus, the subject of the photograph had to move back and forth in tiny increments.  The lens itself could also roll back and forth 15” and the ceiling had a pulley system so that the large prints could be hoisted through the rollers. There was a vacuum board to keep the print flat while the film exposed. The operators of the camera were located inside of it and wore infrared goggles. The camera was decommissioned when Polaroid closed down its film production facilities. During the run it was purported to cost $300.00 to make each image plus studio time of $2,000.00.
Pictures of rescue workers at Grand Central Terminal
Faces of Ground Zero by Joe McNally
A number of famous artists used the 40 X80 camera including Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Lucas Samaras, and Robert Heinecken. Perhaps the best known body of work made by this camera is "Faces of Ground Zero — Portraits of the Heroes of September 11th", a collection of 246 photographs shot in the Moby C studio shortly after 9/11. These photographs, created by American photographer Joe McNally were exhibited in seven cities and help raise money for 9/11 relief. They also helped raise the profile of this type of large format photography.

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