Saturday, October 1, 2011

Looking Up

The conventional format for a panoramic photograph is a "landscape," or horizontal, layout, and perhaps this is due to the fact that we humans possess binocular vision, with the two eyes paired in a horizontal arrangement.  This arrangement causes our field of vision to be spread out left and right, taking in as much as possible of the horizon and, in fact, the horizontal plane on which we stand and walk.  This mostly horizontal orientation to our vision (and much of our life) becomes the main reference from which we tend to view and understand things.

Panoramic photography has proceeded in much the same way as our horizontal vision and thinking.  Since most landscape art (including photography and even painting, from which it sprang) was also oriented with the greatest dimension horizontal, it was only natural that panoramic photography begin from there.  In fact, the great attraction of panoramic photographs was that they could present even more of that horizon that we so desire to see— as much as six or seven times the span of a conventional landscape photograph. And the vista became so wide, that it actually began to somewhat replicate for the viewer the actual experience of the very wide field of view offered by our binocular vision.  This allowed the panorama to present a very different experience to the observer than that afforded by a conventional, window-like, photograph.
VIEW FROM THE TOP, Sedona AZ, © Bill Brockmeier

This unusual experience of viewing a panoramic image is what first attracted me to the format when I was a child— the ability to artificially step back into the reality of the original scene— to be immersed by the image/scene.  This experience was so distinct and so beyond standard photography that I pretty much gave up conventional photography by the beginning of 2002.  I became so immersed in seeing and capturing images in this "new" way, that I never looked back.  But this very horizontal way of seeing/experiencing the world was only a beginning.

Fairly early on into my panoramic explorations, I began to experiment with panoramic orientations beyond the horizontal plane.  Some of my first forays into this even newer way of seeing were simply shifting the plane 30 to 45° from the horizontal.  This was enough to change the panoramic representation of the horizon from the obvious simple, straight line into the much more elegant, and interesting, sine curve.  Things now began to take on a new and curvaceous aesthetic.

Eventually, I thought— "Why not tip the panoramic plane of rotation all the way over to a full 90° angle?  A completely vertical panoramic image might be interesting..." I did just that and was absolutely amazed with the results.  This unobvious (and not without difficulty) way of taking photographs was a true eye-opening (and mind-opening) experiment.  I was not at all prepared for the difference this made in my photographic pursuits.  Like my move from conventional photographs to panoramic photographs, this new direction was to totally change the way I began to attempt to see things around me.

© Bill Brockmeier
One of the aspects of panoramic photography in general that causes me to appreciate it is the fact that I can never fully anticipate what the outcome will be.  This is mostly due to my inability to see the full photograph on-location.  Because the image may eventually be made up of anywhere from eight to as many as twenty separate photographs, I can only see a tiny portion of the full panorama in the camera's view-finder at any one point in time.  I can extrapolate in my mind what it might look like, but it is only much later, when the full-size print is slowly emerging from the printer that I can say out loud— "Oh! So that's what it looks like!"  I very much enjoy the serendipitous benefits of not having everything in my control.  It is sometimes like kicking into the dirt with the heel of your shoe (because you are "led to") and uncovering a gleaming gold nugget lying at your feet.

Composing panoramic photographs in a completely verical format has an even greater serendipity attached to it.  On top of my lack of ability to see at one time the complete panorama as I compose it is an even greater inability to apprehend the vertical experience.  As I mentioned early in this essay, our primary experience of the visual world is horizontal in nature, and this natural proclivity greatly diminishes our ability to see, experience, and think vertically.

When I attempt to compose a vertical panorama, I soon realize I am way out of my league.  There is simply no way "on God's green earth" that my pea-brain can successfully wrap itself around merging twenty separate images that are all spread around a vertically oriented circular array.  And I have come to embrace, and even celebrate, that.

I have learned that wonderful things are waiting for me, if I will simply attempt to be true to the One Who called me to this pursuit.  He is the One Who first Created, and the One Who has called me to enter into an analogous pursuit— that of bringing into sight that which was previously unseen.  In essence, that is what the creative pursuit is.

Vertical panoramas are especially satisfying for me personally, as they cause me to stretch beyond what I am personally capable of doing and seeing, and often bring me into a new, unexpected, and strangely beautiful place.  Many others love them as well, and I have received wonderful response from many who see them when I exhibit them publically.

But they are not everbody's cup of tea.  I have witnessed some who, when walking right up to them and staring intently into them, immediately stagger back— away from the image— flailing both hands out, reaching for something solid to grab onto.  They usually sputter something out like: "Whoa! I can't take that!— that makes me dizzy! That's horrible!"

What can I say?— I guess the old adage is true that what one man treasures seems worthless to another.

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