interesting large format article

From: Thom Mitchell ^lt;>
Date: 05/25/04-10:11:02 PM Z
Message-id: <000801c442d7$7778e4f0$>

Not exactly alt process but interesting none the less. His negative is only
9x18 which is small compared to some people's preferred film size.

Photographer Makes High-Resolution Camera

Tue May 25, 9:59 AM ETAdd Technology - AP to My Yahoo!

By SAMANTHA GROSS, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK - When photographer Clifford Ross first saw Colorado's Mt. Sopris,
he was so taken with the beauty of the mammoth formation that he jumped on
the roof of his brother-in-law's car - denting it - to photograph the
But Ross found that his 35mm photos didn't get anyone else excited. They
simply didn't capture enough detail to convey the majesty of the
white-capped mountain surrounded by grassy fields.
So he decided to make a camera that could create an image as awe-inspiring
as the vista before him. The result was R1, a 110-pound, 6-foot film camera
that produces what experts say are some of the highest-resolution landscape
photographs ever made.
"Mountain I," a 5-foot-by-10-foot color photograph captured by that camera,
is on display at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York through July 30.
Ross, 51, wanted to share a near-replica of reality, without any of the
blurring visible in most large prints. "You can choose to go up to the
picture and experience it intimately with a sense of unbroken reality," he
Details of the mountain's snowcapped peak - 7 miles from the camera - are in
sharp focus, as are individual blades of grass only 30 meters away. When
sections of the image are magnified nearly four times, other details are
clearly visible: the shingles on a barn 1,200 meters from the camera, a red
bird in the grass 45 meters away.
A lower-resolution image captured on everyday 35mm film would break down
when displayed at the size of "Mountain I." Viewers would see a fuzzy,
fractured image - and Ross' miniature red bird would likely not be visible
at all.
"You have to ask the question, `What's the point of painting a scene like
this when you can reproduce it with no loss of resolution?'" says Conor Foy,
a 36-year-old painter. "The resolution of this seems to be more than
anything I've seen before."
Ross acknowledges that he has very little technical background. "I'm not a
research scientist and I'm not a designer of photographic mechanisms," the
first-time inventor says. "I'm doing this because I want to make a piece of
Benjamin Donaldson, a large-format photography teacher at the International
Center of Photography, calls Ross' camera an unusual example of art driving
science rather than the other way around.
Similarly large images have been created before by seaming numerous photos
together, and other photographers have used film even larger than Ross' to
capture high-resolution images. One black-and-white photographer, Douglas
Busch, built a camera that uses custom-made film larger than 3 feet-by-5
But Ross, a self-described perfectionist, found existing large-film cameras
unsuitable. Some were too small. Others produced only black-and-white
photos. The largest ones lacked the refinement he wanted.
"All of the inventions that were wrapped up into my R1, were an antidote to
the problems that I see in all view cameras," he says, referring to the
accordion-style cameras used for maximum image quality.
But as Ross sought to create something new, he found himself returning to
the old, implementing common sense solutions and incorporating outdated
parts - an anomaly in today's digital age.
The R1 - the R is for Ross - is similar to the accordion-style view cameras
used in the 19th century. It is built around the body of a World War II-era
camera originally designed to take pictures from thousands of feet in the
air. Mirrors, vacuum pumps and a microscope help focus the image precisely.
But when Ross' 9-inch-by-18-inch negatives are digitally scanned, the result
is decidedly high-tech. Each image yields a 2.6-gigabyte file - huge for a
single image.
Kodak Chief Technology Officer James Stoffel says Ross' file is more than a
thousand times the size and resolution of those generated by a typical
digital camera for consumers. High-end professional digital cameras usually
create images that are around 20 megabytes, offering less than a hundredth
of the resolution of Ross' images.
Much of the camera's precision focusing is achieved with what Ross calls
"meat and potatoes" innovations.
A vacuum pump ensures that the film is flat to within one-thousandth of an
inch, and a dual-mirror device keeps the film parallel to the lens. Sand
bags strapped to the camera and tripod prevent the machine from shifting,
and a reinforced aluminum cradle maintains the parts of the camera in
perfect alignment.
Because the camera uses film meant for aerial shots, its negatives must be
chemically treated to reduce their unusually high degree of contrast. That
leaves sharp details but muddy colors.
So after digitally scanning the negative, Ross and his assistants must
manipulate the image using Adobe Systems Inc.'s Photoshop software to return
the mountain's colors to their initial vibrancy. Though the method might
raise questions about accuracy and purity, Ross tries to avoid making any
significant changes and works from memory to restore the scene.
The process is so lengthy that the one-time painter can produce only five to
eight images a year. Three years passed between Ross' first snapshot
sketches and the exhibition of "Mountain I."
Ross refuses to divulge how much the camera cost or how it got funded, but
says he did not receive corporate backing.
Confined by the size of available paper, the images will remain 5 feet-by-10
feet - at least for now. Ross says he hopes one day to string flat-screen
monitors together to create an 18-foot-by-36-foot display wall, and he
believes the hyper-reality of the image will hold up at that size.
Kodak's Stoffel says it's unlikely the R1's technology will be adapted for
the average consumer, though high-end professional applications are
possible. He says he has no specifics in mind.
But Ross remains focused on art.
"I want to give people the feeling that they have when they are overpowered
by the grandeur and the beauty of nature," he says. "It's the kind of thing
that artists have been trying to do for hundreds and hundreds of years."
On the Net:
Clifford Ross:
Received on Tue May 25 22:14:13 2004

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