July 17, 2006
Written by Erica Ogg
In an age when most cameras are digital and small enough to fit in a pocket, one couple is crisscrossing the country with a custom camera that needs its own van and uses film reels the size of shoeboxes.
That might seem like an awfully cumbersome load, but the results of the innovative project are groundbreaking–images containing an eye-popping 4 billion pixels.
“The original intent was to see if you could even do it,” said Graham Flint, a retired nuclear physicist, who along with his wife, Catherine Aves, set out to photograph 1,000 American cities as part of a vast undertaking known as the Gigapxl Project’s Portrait of America.
Flint, 68, and Aves, 52, are now six years into their “retirement project.” Their photography, at once a hobby and an engineering project, is relying on the highest-resolution photography in the world to create a genuine, interactive article of Americana.
Taking a photo with Flint’s specialized camera and lenses is the equivalent of looking through 12x-power binoculars at an image for an entire day.
“I had done quite a bit (of landscape photography),” Flint said during a telephone interview from his home in the southwestern U.S. “I ran through the numbers and thought we could get to 100 megapixels, and 1,000 was way beyond what had been done, but it could be done theoretically.”
Knowing it would take five to 10 years to complete the project, Flint said the couple was confident no one else would come out with a 1,000-megapixel, or 1-gigapixel, digital camera in that time frame and overtake them.
There’s no set schedule or timetable determining which cities Flint picks–it’s all, as he puts it, quite “arbitrary.”
He’s the first to admit he isn’t breaking new ground as far as subject matter–think classics like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome, Times Square in New York and Utah’s jutting, artfully carved red rocks of Monument Valley–but neither has he limited himself to famous scenery. Instead, he’s traveled to such arguably unexotic locales as Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Fla., and Denver.
That’s because for Flint, what he shoots is just as important as how he captures it.