Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Size Matters II - Moby C the Giant Polaroid Camera

 I recently watched a Kelby Training video "A Day with Joe McNally" where he discussed his time spent using the Giant Polaroid Camera aka "Moby C". There are plenty of the 'large' Polaroid 20"x24" format cameras out there, but there was only one 'Giant' a 40" x 106" format behemoth. The camera has since been decommissioned with Polaroid falling on hard times and the closure of film production facilities.

 Joe was first introduced to the camera while working on a story about the "Moby C" for the National Geographic magazine (the article was never published). He used a ballerina friend as a subject and had great success using the quirky camera. Then the 9/11 tragedy struck and  Joe thought what better use of the camera than to photograph some of the people impacted by this monumental disaster. Within days he received funding for the project, which was huge considering each image cost $300 and within two weeks of 9/11 he proceeded to capture approximately 300 images.

 Moby C is the size of a garage and requires three operators, two are actually encased in the camera itself. Your subject must be placed equidistant in front of the lens with the distance of the lens to the film holder. It's critical that the distance be equal since the lens even at f45 only provides a DOF of just 1/2 an inch. The camera has no focusing device so you move the subject back & forth until you have a focused image. Since the camera also has no shutter, your subject must remain in place as you kill the lights in the room as the camera operates as a camera obscura (a darkened chamber). The film is then loaded into the holder the lens cap is removed and you fire a huge amount of flash at your subject. Just like a typical Polaroid 90 seconds later you peel off the back and you have your image. The camera  is essentially a copier which can duplicate a life size image of almost anyone on the planet.

The images were shown all across the country in the "Faces of Ground Zero — Portraits of the Heroes of September 11th" show,  and again most recently in New York City as part of the 10th anniversary ceremonies. The show raised over 2 million dollars for the recovery fund. A Mamiya 6x7 camera was mounted just under Moby's lens and was used to trigger the flashes, the transparencies produced were used in two books which also helped raise funds for charity.

Moby C by the Numbers:
 75lbs - weight of the U2 spy plane lens used.
 F45 - fstop of the Lens
 30,000 - watt seconds of flash required to light the subject.
 1/2 inch - depth of field (DOF).
 40 in x 106 in - width and length of the images produced.
 300lbs - weigh of prints when framed.
 $300 - cost per image.
 $100,000 - cost of the "Faces of Ground Zero — Portraits of the Heroes of September 11th" project.

 An amazing story about how this huge camera was used to capture the heroes and survivors of  that tragic day. The rest of the video was spent showing what it takes to produce some very powerful and graphic images of two different styled dancers on location in a large warehouse. Insight into how locations are located, secured, insured etc.. was also provided by Joe's production assistant.

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