The Great Picture, on view at the Contemporary Arts Center, is billed as the biggest photograph ever made. At more than 107 feet wide and 31 feet tall, its total of 3,375 square feet is a number more associated with buildings than photographs. In fact, it was made in an aircraft hangar that was turned into a giant pinhole camera and darkroom for the occasion. The image itself is a stark military airport rendered as a vast black-and-white negative on photo-sensitive cloth. Dark and ghostly, it recalls photography's early days, when most photos were dark and ghostly, but it took almost two more centuries to make one this big — a final salute, perhaps, to the old darkroom photography process in an overwhelmingly digital age.
The exhibition of the world's biggest photograph coincides with the annual PhotoNOLA festival, which gets bigger each year (also see p. 49). Founded by the New Orleans Photo Alliance in 2006, when the survival of the city was still uncertain, PhotoNOLA sponsored workshops and portfolio reviews by 2007, and since then local galleries and museums have participated in steadily increasing numbers with their own photo exhibitions in conjunction with the event's official offerings. Under the leadership of Jennifer Shaw, the scale of these events has increased dramatically as the number of related exhibitions has grown, with more than 60 gallery and museum shows in addition to the Dec. 12-15 workshops and lectures. All this activity has turned PhotoNOLA into a national event, and how such a low-key organization has managed to orchestrate it with mainly grassroots, volunteer support is one of those mysteries that make New Orleans one of the DIY capitals of the world. This year's fundraising offerings include Josephine Sacabo's limited-edition print Las Estrellas and the new Luna Press book Inventing Reality: New Orleans Visionary Photography (which I curated). — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT