Smart phone cameras have certainly changed the way society views photography. And while many would point to the “selfie” as the most significant shift, for me, the ability to take panoramic photographs is the game changer. The “pano” setting allows you to take expansive landscape photographs that have a wonderful “Where’s Waldo” effect. With their farther-than-the-eye-can-see format and rich detail, panoramic images command more time and attention than conventional photographs. And, maybe most importantly, they are supremely easy to handle. There is no lugging heavy cameras or carrying and developing special film. Photography was always an important tool in documenting my temporal environmental installations. Now the documentation can be richer and potentially more expressive.
The Library of Congress website offers an easy-to-search collection of panoramic images from 1851-1991. The Panoramic Photograph Collection contains approximately four thousand images featuring American cityscapes, landscapes, and group portraits.
Panoramic photographs of oil fields, alligator farms, fire scenes, national parks, and bridges evoke another time, but also highlight values and beliefs that endure today. The social and ethnic groupings in this portrait of a wild west show are ripe for analysis and further exploration. And while this image of bathing beauties in Atlantic City could foster a range of discussions on women’s issues, I also find it interesting the way the distinct looks and personalities of each woman comes through. Maybe today’s image of “beauty” have become more rigid and codified?
Students could curate a virtual art show of historic panoramic images. Have each student search the image bank for photographs that resonates with them. As a class discuss the appeal of the images and then organize and cluster images as a curator would. These clusters could go in many different directions and will spawn their own discussions.
Building on this analysis, students could use smart phones to take their own contemporary panoramic photographs. Again, reconvene to discuss the motivations and ideals of these panoramas and organize another virtual show.
Compare and contrast the two shows. Though most of the images will be more than 100 years apart, what common themes do they share?