The Legacy Project and The Great Picture

Jerry Burchfield’s and Mark Chamberlain’s extensive documentation of Laguna Canyon led naturally to their involvement with the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and to the future of the base’s 4,700 contiguous undeveloped acres in Irvine, California. 

In 1993, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the decommissioning of that air base by the end of the nineties. A major political battle immediately ensued around the fate of the air station’s extensive lands—one faction favored turning it into an international airport. Chamberlain and Burchfield along with a huge contingent of Orange County residents and other environmentalists wanting the land to become a park to serve the public good.

Jerry and Mark renewed their joint art activism—a hallmark of their collaborations for many years—expressing their desire that the proposed park would connect with the Laguna Wilderness Park, providing a natural corridor from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. 

In 2005, the Orange County Great Park proponents finally prevailed and plans was slated for its transformation into public parkland.

In 2002, before that decision was reached, Jerry gained permission to escort a Cypress College photography class to the base. Mark and Cypress instructors Rob Johnson and Clayton Spada joined them. “We felt like archeologists entering a ghost town when we first explored the air station,” Jerry commented.

Subsequently, fellow photographers Jacques Garnier and Doug McCulloh were invited to join the undertaking renamed The Legacy Project and dedicated to documenting the evolution of the Great Park over the next decade.

The six Project members have already amassed hundreds of thousands of photographs of homes, schools, churches, theaters, and playgrounds of the city within a city, which had been occupied by Marines and their families since the early 1940s. The photographers have also shot runways, hangars, and distant mountain ranges of the shuttered base, documenting its transition into a park.

Future plans for the Orange County Great Park are diverse and expansive. One proposal, as part of the Park’s art program, is to erect a long-overdue permanent monument to The Tell, artistically combining the Laguna Wilderness land with the Great Park directly to the northeast.

The Great Picture

In July 2006,The Legacy Project, led by Jerry Burchfield, created The Great Picture, the world’s largest photograph. Project members plus 400 volunteers, other artists, and engineers converted a jet maintenance hangar into a Camera Obscura (a camera first used centuries ago), making their exposure through a 6-millimeter pinhole lens onto a single seamless muslin canvas that was coated with emulsion—a 35 minute exposure—capturing the black-and-white negative image. They then processed the photograph in an Olympic-pool-size developing tray constructed on site.

The resulting 3,375-square-foot gelatin silver photographic print is 3 stories high by 11 stories wide, showing the control tower structures and tarmac of the former air base, with the San Joaquin Hills in the background. This region of the former air base is the designated heart of the Great Park.

In 2007, The Guinness Book of Records certified the Project’s Camera Obscura as the largest camera and photograph ever recorded. To date, The Great Picture has been exhibited in four venues, Including the Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing, China, and has been featured in stories in several hundred publications.