The World’s Largest Film Camera Redefines Mobile Photography

Largest camera ever built

The phrase “go big or go home” seems to take on a special significance with photographer Dennis Manarchy. Obsessed with the concept of scale and the possibilities of working with massive negatives to create portrait images more than two stories high, he and his team have created a 35-foot view camera, the world’s largest film camera. The project, nicknamed “Butterflies and Buffalo”, aims to use the traveling view camera as a conduit for documenting more than 50 of the unique cultures in America.

Inspiration for the project grew out of Manarchy’s days as a student of art and photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Impressed with the way that artist Chuck Close employed scale to render detail in his photorealistic portrait work, Dennis felt that large portraits made a powerful statement. After seeing Close’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, he wanted to create honest people photographs that could similarly display the authenticity of an individual in a gritty, realistic way. He was also moved by the work of Edward Curtis, a portrait photographer who chronicled America’s indigenous cultures in the 20-volume North American Indian publications.

After graduating from RIT and apprenticing under the legendary Irving Penn, Dennis was drafted into the army and served as a Lieutenant in Vietnam. He eventually established a successful commercial studio in Chicago with a client list including Harley Davidson, Nike and publication credits in Life, Vanity Fair, Vogue and Time. The power of the portrait, the initial draw that he felt when seeing Close’s imagery at MOMA, is the common thread through Manarchy’s long and storied career behind the camera.