Friday, September 26, 2008

A panoramic view

Panoramic photography was popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the rise of movies. Photographers would take multiple still photos from different perspectives on a scene, then assemble the photos next to each other to recover the full scene. A panorama could project a scene wider than a person could see at one glance by the naked eye.

The Library of Congress' American Memory collection includes almost 4,000 panoramic photos, from 1851 to 1991. Most date from the heyday of panoramic photography in the early 20th century. The panorama on the upper left is of Boston around 1894, looking west from the Old North Church. The State House sits almost at dead center.

If you browse by category, you'll find all sorts of fascinating subjects: African-Americans (including early civil rights meetings), airplanes, the Anti-Saloon League .... My favorites are "bathing beauties" and "beauty contests." Curiously, they all date from the 1920s -- the first decade in which such things were not a complete scandal, I suppose.

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