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Not Your Average Picture: Installation of a 17-foot Photograph

Shi Guorui photograph

The Chinese artist Shi Guorui produced this photograph of the Donner Pass by creating a pinhole camera obscura. The photographic method is just like the oatmeal container pinhole camera you might have made in grade school, but on a much larger scale. The artist put a single small hole in the side of an otherwise light-sealed semi-trailer truck.  The light rays passed through this small hole forming an inverted image on a long, curved sheet of sensitized photographic paper.  We were told that the artist meditated during the hours-long exposure time.

At 4 feet 2 inches x 17 feet 2 inches, Donner Pass is one of the largest photographs in the Museums’ collection. Due to its unique size, installation required much advanced planning to come up with a method of hanging that was not only safe for the photograph, but also met the visions of the artist and curators. As the artist preferred the immediacy of the uncovered photograph placed directly on the wall, a tailored system of hinging materials and frame installation methods was devised by the paper conservation laboratory to safely meet this vision.  

After much preparation, the day of installation had arrived.  

Shi Guorui installation

Upon making measurements for exact placement on the wall, conservator Debra Evans and technician Don Larsen carefully unroll the photograph.

 Shi Guorui installation 

The artwork is secured to the wall by hinges attached at one-foot intervals to the top and bottom edges of the back of the artwork. As the artwork is unrolled, the hinges are secured to the wall. In this picture, conservator Victoria Binder protects the edges of the artwork and holds it flat against the wall while the hinges are secured by technician Paul Palacios.

 Shi Guorui installation 

Moving slowly and carefully, the artwork is nearly unrolled.

 Shi Guorui installation 

Conservator Debra Evans makes sure the artwork is level.

 Shi Guorui installation 

With the photograph securely on the wall, the wooden moldings are placed to overlap and secure the top and bottom edges.

 Shi Guorui installation 

Installation is complete!

The photograph Donner Pass by Shi Guorui will be on display in the exhibition Developed and Undeveloped: Photographic Landscapes at the de Young Museum’s Fischer Gallery until March 20, 2011.

—Debra Evans, Head Paper Conservator and Victoria Binder, Assistant Conservator


It's done! Bravo, you all!! The awesome photos really show that the devil is in the details with works like this! Best, Nina