Essay: The panorama

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published on: January 11, 2019
  • File format: Text
  • Number of pages: 2
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19th Century France was one of the most populous countries in Europe. Contrary to England, industrialization found its place in Paris quite late, delayed by the Napoleonic wars. A large sum of the people occupied the country side, but with the rise of industrialization, urbanisation gradually kicked in. France had now transformed from a “country of peasants into a nation of Frenchmen”, comments historian Eugene Weber, commenting on the country’s new found patriotism, national identity and decline in the Catholic Church’s overall role. The Napoleonic Wars, along with the Revolution, heavily altered the course of Parisian art, bringing in Romanticism, Impressionism and Modern, which reflected the appearance and effect of the Arcades. Even with the abundance of spectacular art during this period, a desire for accurate representations of life always existed. This desire can be used to justify many an artist’s obsession with “camera obscura”. Camera Obscura can be looked as the ancestral technology to how the modern principles of photography behave. The term means “dark room” which refers to the discovery of the fact that when light passes through a minuscule hole in a dark room, an inverted image of whatever exists outside the room is projected on the wall. The earliest written record of this phenomenon was found in Chinese writings called Mozi and was utilised for viewing eclipses without eye damage in the 16th Century and even as a reference for drawing. Not only was the demand for scientifically accurate images overbearing, but the want for portraits by the bourgeois rose due to industrialization. As the people of Paris drowned in their new found consumption contaminated environment, they soon became obsessed with activities of materialism that the Industrial Revolution and its machinery dragged along. A new norm for fast and consistent products (because of manufactured goods) had developed and it was slowly seeping into the world of art. Photography could be used as a quick and easy way to replicate what was seen by the eye in realty, another idea Parisians started to infatuate themselves with.
 
THE PANORAMA

It is said that the first recorded appearance of a “panorama” appeared on Saturday, May 18, 1791 as an advertisement in a newspaper, claiming it to be “the greatest improvement to the art of painting that has ever yet been discovered.”, boasting of a newly erected building that contained painting that sprawled across a massive one thousand four hundred and seventy-nine square-feet displaying “one of the best known Scenes
in Europe”. The panorama was created by Robert Baker who was an Irish painter from Edinburgh. He had made a massive painting of a singular stretch of land extending along the sides of the inside of a cylinder structure, looping perfectly within itself. The aim of this contraption, according to Baker, was to attempt to transport the viewer to that exact location that it was representing. The word “panorama” is derived from the Greek words pan (all) and horama (view). Initially, this spectacle could only be seen at Baker’s temporary buildings, but in 1793, he succeeded in opening his first permanent panorama at Leicester Square. It consisted of two rings of artwork, such as to always have a painting to display while the secondary was being painted. A similar concept to the panorama had been developed by painter Johann Adam Breysig all the way in Germany, but, unfortunately for him, he did not have the foresight to capitalise his ideas until after Baker had already done so. Word of this “improved form of painting” had spread like wildfire across the globe and reporters wrote about the restlessness of the people of London and New York who couldn’t contain their excitement for the latest panoramas to open. As we reach the thick of the century, the term panorama had been imbibed in every dialect across Europe through articles in magazines. As a brand new art form, the panorama was born as an early harbringer to a new market. A market that reflects characteristics that belong to the Age of Ads and the Internet. It was a phenomenon that had the power to transport its user to an entirely different place, blurring the lines between a rooted existence and a worldwide perspective.

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