Panorama – Seeing the bigger picture through the ages

People have always yearned to see places and things beyond their immediate surroundings. The device of the panorama existed in painting, particularly in murals as early as 20 A.D. in those found in Pompeii. But panoramas first became known when in 1787, Robert Barker (an Irishman) patented his plans for a cylindrical building that was to be erected around a large, panoramic painting. The building served the exclusive purpose of allowing the cylindrical painting to be created and subsequently displayed. The special painting technique, combined with sophisticated lighting, produced a new experience for the viewer, who stood on a special platform in the center of the circular room. The goal was to produce the perfect illusion of a real scene. Barker erected his first permanent circular panorama building (or “rotunda”) in Leicester Square in London in 1792, where one or two new panoramas a year, were exhibited for the next half-century.

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Barker’s London panorama of 1792, from the top of the Albion Mills.

In the mid-19th century, panoramic paintings and models became a very popular way to represent landscapes, topographic views and historical events. Audiences of Europe in this period were thrilled by the aspect of illusion, immersed in a winding 360 degree panorama and given the impression of standing in a new environment. Photographers soon started arranging multiple images into a single wide image, not long after the introduction of the Daguerreotype in 1839.

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San Francisco from Rincon Hill, 1851; c1910 Martin Behrman gelatin silver print; 5.5 x 36 in.

This 1851 view of San Francisco was made with five daguerreotype plates. It is believed that the panorama initially had eleven plates, but the original daguerreotypes no longer exist. This image is a copy photograph submitted to the Library of Congress, USA in 1910 for copyright protection. It was only in the late 19th century that cameras were specifically designed to capture panoramic images. These cameras were either swing-lens cameras, where the lens rotated while the film remained stationary, or 360-degree rotation cameras, where both the camera and the film rotated. The first mass-produced American panoramic camera, the Al-Vista, was introduced in 1898. The following year Eastman Kodak introduced the #4 Kodak Panorama panoramic camera that proved popular with amateur photographers.

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Nowadays anyone with a decent smartphone can take panoramic images and with new features such as Facebook 360 degrees we can see panoramic images from across the world. They are even being used by brands for smart marketing techniques. At MICA, we constantly strive to stretch the boundaries of our minds and broaden our vision to learn more, at every step of the way. We are taught to look at the world through a bigger lens and this year, TEDxMICA brings together a lineup of speakers who have dared to look at the bigger picture and challenged norms to behold the panorama of life. Our theme ‘Panorama’, opens up endless opportunities to explore the world from a different perspective and we look forward to experiencing this through an array of inspiring and enriching talks. Come join us at MICA Ahmedabad on 12th February 2017 and experience the Panorama in real life.
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