Douglas McCulloh

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Douglas McCulloh (born 1959, in Los Angeles) is an American photographer notable for conceptual photographic projects based on “systematic randomness”[1] and chance operations.[2] McCulloh’s work is “an extension of the traditions of street photography, social documentary photography, oral history and Surrealist chance operations,” states photo historian Jonathan Green. “As such, it is grounded in some of the century’s most powerful conceptual currents.”[3] McCulloh is one of six photographers who in 2006 transformed an F-18 jet hangar into the world’s largest camera to make the world’s largest photograph.[4] McCulloh also curates exhibitions, most notably Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists, the first major museum exhibition of work by blind photographers.[5] McCulloh, under the nom-de-plume “Quoteman,” has also collected and posted online thousands of quotations about photography.[6]


McCulloh holds B.A. degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara in renaissance history and sociology and an M.F.A. from Claremont Graduate University in photography and digital media.[7] McCulloh writes that his “mother is a refugee and my father is a geologist.”[8] Because of an upbringing that highlighted both uncontrollable change and deep time, McCulloh states he “has believed since childhood that the world operates mainly by chance.”[8]


McCulloh’s art is conceptual in character, using chance systems to drive large photographic projects.[7] He is clear about the goal: “Chance liberates us from the limitations of our intention,” McCulloh writes. “Chance subverts control, allowing art to become an opening into the world’s full complexity.”[9] “Everybody feels like they have control over things,” McCulloh told interviewer Marilyn Thomsen in 2003, “but I think the world mostly operates by strange chance. If the world operates by chance, why not use [chance] as a way of encountering the world directly?”[1] In 2009, McCulloh summarized his methods: “I create systems driven by chance operations: random sampling, chance drawings, map transects. Then I set the systems in motion and record what chance provides.”[8] Art critic Christopher Miles positioned McCulloh’s strategy within art history: “In order to take both his own preconceptions and popular constructions out of the picture, Douglas McCulloh has done something clever and simple. McCulloh merely merged the tradition of social documentary photography á la Robert Frank with the Surrealist approach of creating a system that forces the artist to act at the mercy of chance.”[10]

Major Works[edit]

Chance Encounters (1992-2002)[edit]

Chance Encounters is a photographic sampling project controlled by a map gridded into 5,151 quarter-mile squares that encompass all of urban Los Angeles County.[2] McCulloh begins each day of photography by pulling chance coordinates that select one random quarter-mile square, according to a book on the project.[11] McCulloh then travels to that quarter-mile square with a single camera and 18mm wide angle lens, speaking “with almost everyone he encounters” and making more than 20,000 photographs.[12] “McCulloh’s working method avoids pitfalls by adopting the Dadaist strategy of leaving things to chance,” stated Los Angeles Times art critic William Wilson. “He selects areas at random, spending a day shooting whatever he finds – beach, slum or riverbed slime.[2] A traveling exhibition of Chance Encounters was curated by California Museum of Photography director Jonathan Green.[2]

On the Beach (2000-2007)[edit]

With a high resolution camera and studio lighting, McCulloh and collaborator Jacques Garnier made photographs on beaches in California and Florida over a seven-year period. “Beaches are half display, half voyeurism,” stated the Southeast Museum of Photography about the project. “This is the precise terrain of photography – one side posing, the other looking. Cameras belong on the beach.”[13] The photographers set up studio lighting at crowded beaches and “sample the passing parade like scientists who periodically dip water out of a flowing stream.”[14] The resulting photographs are “infinitely less guarded than posed portraits,” states arts writer Laura Stewart. “They tell vivid stories about the beach and its people, and about those of us who are given the unusual freedom to stare.”[15] Kevin Miller, director of the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida, originated an exhibition and book on the project.[13] The work has also been shown at museums including the Laguna Art Museum, Autry National Center of the American West, and California Museum of Photography.[16][17]

20,000 Portraits (2001)[edit]

McCulloh and collaborator Ted Fisher led 68 artists, photographers, and volunteers in a project that photographed 20,558 visitors to the Los Angeles County Fair.[18] A short documentary about the project reveals the working methodology – four digital shooting stations built into the fair’s fine art pavilion; one image of each person is made and a database created with subject’s answers to five questions: first name, age, gender, and zip code, and “What makes you unique?”[18] 20,000 Portraits was in the vanguard of database-driven art projects and has been shown widely, most prominently in the LA Freewaves 2002 New Media Biennial in Los Angeles.[19]

The Legacy Project (2002-continuing)[edit]

The Legacy Project is a 15-year art project focused on a major closed United States military base: Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Orange County, California. As of September 2007, the six photographers – Jerry Burchfield, Mark Chamberlain, Jacques Garnier, Rob Johnson, Douglas McCulloh, and Clayton Spada – had made more than 90,000 photographs, according to reports published by arts writer Liz Goldner.[20] For 50 years, the 4,700-acre El Toro base was at the heart of Marine Corps air operations, playing pivotal roles in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War.[21] In an extensive essay, art critic and curator Mark Johnstone, equates the ambitious scope and scale of the Legacy Project to other major photographic surveys, specifically the geographic surveys of the American West in the 1800s, the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration (1935–1942), and the National Endowment for the Arts Surveys (1976–1981).[22] Legacy Project work has been shown in many exhibitions, including Laguna Art Museum, Chapman University, Art Center College of Design, Cypress College, Orange Coast College, and the City of Los Angeles Angels Gate Cultural Center.[23]

Dream Street (2003-2009)[edit]

McCulloh won the right to name a street in Southern California at a charity auction. He then spent hundreds of hours at the place he named “Dream Street,” producing 12,891 photos, 47½ hours of recordings, three bankers’ boxes of notes, maps and e-mails” and ultimately a book.[24][25] The 134-home, 40-acre subdivision is a microcosm of the new economy, a site where issues of race and gender, immigration and exploitation, hopes and dreams animate a classic California landscape.[26][27] Susan Brenneman, writing in the Los Angeles Times, called Dream Street “a classic tale, recast for Southern California: the American dream, tied to the almighty dollar and abundant cheap labor, dependent, equally, on self-deception and inextinguishable hope.”[24] “For those of us who live on one of California’s streets of dreams,” writes author D.J. Waldie “the history of how this one was made is of enormous importance as a warning and a guide.”[28]

60,000 Photographs in Hollywood (2003-continuing)[edit]

McCulloh was given a commission to document Hollywood in 60,000 photographs by the City of Los Angeles “L.A. Neighborhoods Project.”[29] “The result,” states photographer and writer Aline Smithson, “is a massive and multi-layered artistic inquiry. Map-driven and infused with data and first-hand narrative, the project moves beyond traditions of the isolated photographic image. Instead the project emphasizes complexity, multiplicity, extreme volume, and the interplay of image, data, map, and text.”[30] McCulloh’s Hollywood work has been exhibited in the U.S. and Europe and has become part of the permanent photo archive of the City of Los Angeles.[29]

The Great Picture (2006)[edit]

The Great Picture hanging in its hangar-camera.

The Great Picture is the largest photograph ever made as a single seamless image, produced on July 8, 2006 using a Southern California jet hangar transformed into a giant camera.[31] The 3,505.75 square-foot (325.44 m²) photograph was made to mark the end of 165 years of film/chemistry-based photography and the start of the age of digital photography.[32] It was made by The Legacy Group; (Jerry Burchfield, Mark Chamberlain, Jacques Garnier, Rob Johnson, Douglas McCulloh, and Clayton Spada). Dimensions of the photograph are 31 feet, 7 inches (9.62 meters) high x 111 feet (33.83 meters) wide.[32] Aspect ratio is 3.47:1. The photograph is of the control tower and runways at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Orange County, California. The exposure was 35 minutes long and development took 5 hours, 70 people and 1,800 gallons (6,814 liters) of black-and-white chemistry.[33] The Great Picture has been written about in more than 500 publications, states art writer Liz Goldner, including Art in America, Photographie, AfterImage, Juxtapoz, Black and White Magazine, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune.[34]

Sight Unseen (2009-continuing)[edit]

McCulloh is curator of Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists for the UCR/California Museum of Photography.[5] Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight stated that the “87 works by 11 artists and one collective” are “more akin to Conceptual art than to traditional camera-work.”[35] Artists included in Sight Unseen are Ralph Baker, Evgen Bavčar, Henry Butler, Pete Eckert, Bruce Hall, Annie Hesse, Rosita McKenzie, Gerardo Nigenda, Michael Richard, Seeing With Photography Collective, Kurt Weston, and Alice Wingwall. Sight Unseen was shown at UCR/California Museum of Photography from May 2 to August 29, 2009, and has since traveled to the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C.; Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City; and Flacon, Moscow.[36][37] The exhibition is the first major museum exhibition of blind photographers, states Stacy Davies in ArtSlant.[38] Writing for Time Magazine, Matt Kettman quotes McCulloh on the conceptual underpinning of the work: “The whole trajectory of modern art for the last 100 years has been toward the concept of art as mental construction, and blind photography comes from that place. They’re creating that image in their head first — really elaborate, fully realized visions — and then bringing some version of that vision into the world for the rest of us to see.”[39]

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ a b See Marilyn Thomsen. "Chance Encounters: Photographer Doug McCulloh exposes strange realities in the land of dreams" (PDF). The Flame, Spring 2004, Volume 5, Number 1. p. 20. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d See William Wilson (November 27, 1998). "Some Telling 'Encounters' with Los Angeles". Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1998. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  3. ^ See Jonathan Green (1998). Chance Encounters: The L.A. Project — Sightings of the Marvelous and Extraordinary. Riverside, California: University of California/California Museum of Photography. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-9666936-0-7. Retrieved January 4, 2011. 
  4. ^ See Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press (June 14, 2006). "Jumbo Camera Taking World's Largest Photo". USA Today, June 14, 2006. Retrieved December 22, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b See "Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists — Introduction". University of California/California Museum of Photography. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  6. ^ See  ⁄  world's largest photo quotation resource
  7. ^ a b See Marilyn Thomsen. "Chance Encounters: Photographer Doug McCulloh exposes strange realities in the land of dreams" (PDF). The Flame, Spring 2004, Volume 5, Number 1. p. 19. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c See Douglas McCulloh (2009). Dream Street. Berkeley, California: Heyday Books. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-59714-103-1. 
  9. ^ See Douglas McCulloh (1998). Chance Encounters: The L.A. Project. Riverside, California: University of California/California Museum of Photography. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-9666936-0-7. 
  10. ^ See Christopher Miles. "California Museum of Photography". Art Week, January 1999, Volume 30, Issue 1. p. 18. 
  11. ^ See Douglas McCulloh (1998). Chance Encounters: The L.A. Project. Riverside, California: University of California/California Museum of Photography. p. Vellum overleaf introduction. ISBN 978-0-9666936-0-7. 
  12. ^ See Douglas McCulloh (1998). Chance Encounters: The L.A. Project. Riverside, California: University of California/California Museum of Photography. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-9666936-0-7. 
  13. ^ a b See "On the Beach: Chance Portraits from Two Shores". Southeast Museum of Photography. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  14. ^ See Douglas McCulloh; Jacques Garnier (2006). On the Beach: Chance Portraits from Two Shores. Daytona Beach, Florida: Southeast Museum of Photography/Daytona Beach Community College. pp. Introduction, 1. ISBN 978-0-9789072-0-4. 
  15. ^ See Laura Stewart. "On the Beach: Exhibit looks through the lens at surf culture" (PDF). Daytona Beach News Journal, December 10, 2006. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  16. ^ See "Ocean View: The Depiction of Southern California Lifestyle". Laguna Art Museum. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  17. ^ See "Ocean View: The Depiction of Southern California Lifestyle". Autry National Center of the American West. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 
  18. ^ a b See Ted Fisher; Douglas McCulloh (2001). (20,558) Twenty Thousand Portraits (Documentary). Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  19. ^ See "A look at 20,000 people and their interconnectivity". LA Freewaves. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  20. ^ See Liz Goldner. "A Photographic Memory". Orange Coast Magazine, September 2007. pp. 112–116. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  21. ^ See "Ghosts of El Toro: Life, Death and the Inevitable Transformation of the American Military". Angels Gate Cultural Center. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  22. ^ See The Legacy Group (2005). The Edge of Air: Photographs of the Final Days of the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro. Laguna Beach, California: Laguna Wilderness Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-9728544-5-0. 
  23. ^ See Liz Goldner. "A Photographic Memory". Orange Coast Magazine, September 2007. p. 115. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  24. ^ a b See Susan Brenneman (May 31, 2009). "Down on Dream Street". Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  25. ^ See Dan Bernstein. "Collision of Values". The Press Enterprise, June 11, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  26. ^ See "2010 SPE West Regional Conference "New Sites" Agenda". Society for Photographic Education West, November 13, 2010, Track B, 11am-12:30pm, Douglas McCulloh. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  27. ^ See Stacy Davies. "Runnin' Down a Dream". Inland Empire Weekly, May 1, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  28. ^ See D.J. Waldie. "47. Dream Street". KCET > SoCal > Voices > Where We Are, May 6, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  29. ^ a b See "Next Stop: Hollywood" (PDF). Lasting Images: Newsletter of the Photo Friends of the Los Angeles Public Library History Department, Fall 2006. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  30. ^ See Aline Smithson. "Douglas McCulloh: Four Evenings with Fine Art Photographers". Lenscratch, June 22, 2009. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  31. ^ See Sonya Smith. "World's Largest Photo taken in Defunct El Toro Base Hangar". Orange County Register, July 13, 2006. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  32. ^ a b See "Guinness Certifies World's Largest Photograph and Camera". PR Newswire, United Business Media, July 13, 2006. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  33. ^ See Annie Rivera. "The Great Picture: The World's Largest Photo and the World's Largest Camera". Cypress Chronicle, October 6, 2007. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  34. ^ See Liz Goldner. "A Photographic Memory". Orange Coast Magazine, September 2007. p. 116. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  35. ^ See Christopher Knight (November 27, 1998). "Review: 'Sight Unseen' at UCR/California Museum of Photography". Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  36. ^ See "VSA Presents Exhibitions at The Kennedy Center". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved January 12, 2011. 
  37. ^ See "La Mirada Invisible: Colectiva Internacional de Fotógrafos Ciegos". Centro de la Imagen. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  38. ^ See Stacy Davies. "The Mind's Eye: Sight Unseen". ArtSlant Los Angeles, May 25, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2011. [dead link]
  39. ^ See Matt Kettmann (May 17, 2009). "The Art and Heart of Blind Photographers". Time, May 17, 2009. Retrieved January 12, 2011. 

External links[edit]