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PANORAMAS

by Philip J. Ethington


"Panorama" is Greek for "all-view" or "all-spectacle." The term is credited to Robert Barker, in his Royal British patent of 1787, and an 1866 source has it that "the first panorama exhibited in London was painted by Robert Barker in 1789; it represented a view of Edinburgh." The 1801 Encyclopedia Britannica offers "Panorama, a word ... employed of late to denote a painting ... which represents an entire view of any country, city, or other natural [sic] objects, as they appear to a person standing in any situation, and turning quite round." The "Cyclorama" had these paintings mounted on the inside of a large cylinder, while the panorama was often rolled, scroll-like, and unfurled across a stage while a narrator explicated its contents. The "Diorama" essentially an elaborate scene in a room-sized lighted box, is credited, significantly, to Louis Daguerre himself, first exhibited in London in 1823 (Oxford English Dictionary, 2d edn., 1989).

The term and the concept of panorama, then, as it has grown in usage since the late eighteenth century, is essentially urban and also proto-photographic. Louis Daguerre, co-inventor of photography, first trained under the celebrated panorama painter Pierre Prévost. Very often, the scenes were of rural or wild settings, but the point of them was exhibition, and the exhibitors, beginning with Mr. Barker, were dependent on large urban audiences. Vanessa Schwartz writes of the "O-rama craze" in late nineteenth-century Paris.
[1] The tradition continues with the 3-D "IMAX" theaters, which exhibit spectacular scenes on gigantic screens. Browser technology permitting, readers can also view the panoramas on this web site as "virtual reality," which means that they have been converted into a "Quicktime" movie format that allows you to "pan" around as though you were turning your head.

I have created many panoramas for this web site, all direct descendants of Barker's invention. The methods of panoramic photography have evolved steadily since the first attempt by Talbot in 1843 to align two separate images to form a single, wider view. Eadweard Muybridge, credited also with creating early cinematic techniques, created huge segmented panoramas of San Francisco in the 1870s (one copy is owned by the New York Historical Society). Each segment was shot with an 18 by 12 inch field camera, and the total assemblage of one edition reaches 14 feet in length. This method, called "segmented panoramas," is the one used throughout this web site.
[2]

Evidently, the
1868 (Broadway and Temple) and 1905 (Broadway and Seventh) panoramas displayed in this web site were intended for such display. The photographer is unknown in both cases. The 1868 images were traded and re-photographed several times, and information about the original photographer has been lost. The California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California contains a richly annotated (and erroneously dated) version. The separate frames of the 1905 panorama, held by the Getty Research Institute, are quite crisp and possibly are first-generation prints from the negatives.

I first acquired digital copies of the 1868 and 1905 images from the Getty Research Institute (created by Don Williamson), then worked with these digital copies. I cropped and adjusted the images with Adobe PhotoShop, and stitched, blended, and rendered images into the panoramas shown here using MGI Photovista (r) software. I used this same method to create all of the Year 2000 panoramas, with the exception that I shot the originals in 12 or 24 adjoining and overlapping frames on a digital camera.

Go to table of panoramas