Photographers Take a Broader View: Panoramic Photography Comes into Focus for Photographers and Collectors Looking to Capture Large Vistas

Article excerpt

In 1901, photographer George R. Lawrence wanted to take a panoramic shot of Chicago, but he encountered one problem--how to get himself and his camera high enough to take it. An inventive man, Lawrence devised a cage attached to a balloon that elevated him 200 feet into the air. Unfortunately, the contraption collapsed, hurling him and his camera to earth. Luckily, a net of telephone lines saved him.

What reads like a Laurel and Hardy comedy sketch actually illustrates the real-life perils early panoramic photographers faced. Fortunately, panoramic photography (and transportation) has moved light years ahead. Many different cameras, lenses and film are now on the market for panoramic purposes, including a 360-degree camera that enables photographers to capture a flail circle around them. Lighter and more adaptable cameras with the sides of helicopters for skyline shots (as Jerry Driendl does) or hike up the mountains of Patagonia to photograph the glaciers (as Colin Prior does). Because photographers now can do all this and more, an increasing number of panoramic images are showing up in galleries and museums as prints and posters. What's better, they're popular with the public, too.

"We used to sell boxes [of poster panoramas]. Now we sell skids and skids of them," said Jerry Driendl of Driendl Skylines, a panoramic photo company. He reported that sales of his panoramas have gone up significantly these past few years, doubling or even tripling. Why? Driendl laughed and couldn't come up with a good reason, except, "I think, in terms of a photographic image, it's an eye-catching size."

Historically Speaking

Panoramic photography began shortly after the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839, according to Carol Johnson, curator of "Taking the Long View," a Library of Congress collection of 4,000 panoramic photographs. Early photographers knew they could recreate a city scene or landscape by taking a series of consecutive photographs. They photographed one scene, then moved the camera slightly and took another until they had the desired tableau. Photographers call this a segmented panorama.

In 1843, an Austrian developed the first swing-lens camera. The lens rotated while the camera remained stationary. But the big breakthrough came in 1904 with the mass-produced, large-format Cirkut camera. Both the film and the camera moved on a special tripod. The Cirkut could capture views as wide as 360 degrees and pictures as long as 20 feet. Some panorama traditionalists still use it.

Panoramic Photography Today

"There's definitely a resurgence right now," said Johnson about this growing group of photographers, who formed their own trade group, the International Association of Panoramic Photographers, 20 years ago.

The revival of the panoramic image began in the mid-1980s. That's when Loring Holtz of Everlasting Images began publishing posters of sports stadiums and events. His business has grown steadily since--as much as 25 percent per year. He attributes this growth to continually broadening his market. Today he photographs stadiums and events that include baseball, football, hockey, tennis, soccer and basketball games, plus the Super Bowl, NASCAR races and the Stanley Cup.

"It's history in the making," he said about a marketing strategy that's similar to what photographers used a century ago. With as many as 100,000 people in the sports stadiums, Holtz knows that he has a ready market of souvenir-seekers. Because his large-format film captures such fine detail, customers can actually pick themselves out of the crowd.

"It's a great format for any type of landscape," said Christo Holloway, who, like many contemporary photographers, uses the panorama to capture large vistas. Holloway, a model maker, graphic designer and owner of A Clockwork Apple Gallery in New York, took several cameras with him when he traveled to the Namib Desert where he captured clay-carved huts, wind-ravaged trees, angular shapes and long waves of red sand. …