PANORAMA

July 7th, 2010 — 1:38pm
panorama strip
Orientation plan for the Panorama of London, 1792 (source) Excerpt from Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Ed Ruscha, 1966 (source)

 

The painted panorama (Latin for all sight) was invented by Robert Barker at the end of the 18th century, as a sort of low-tech holodeck. Displayed along the interior walls of a cylindrical room, panoramic paintings surrounded viewers, transporting them into the world of the artist. Despite the flexibility afforded by the painted medium, Barker’s first panoramas focused primarily on urban geography. His first major panorama displayed in London was an image of the city of London itself, from the South Bank, a strange topic given that Londoners could view their city for free by going outside. Given the success of the London panorama, similar paintings were created in Paris and Berlin, depicting Paris and Berlin respectively. The panoramas eventually toured the continent, offering a perverse version of travel to the public—a theme which became increasingly popular as the medium developed. While purpose built panoramas were constructed throughout Europe and America, the static paintings could not compete with the dynamism of the cinema which exploded in popularity at the beginning of the 20th century. The medium was all but lost.

 

Skip ahead a hundred years, and the panorama is alive and well, however, on the computer—a strange twist, as the panorama was in the past celebrated primarily for its spatial qualities. However, despite shedding its spatial roots, the panorama has remained constant in its depiction of urban geography—the primary subject of technologies such as Google’s Street View. And just as the panorama’s of the 18th century allowed the public to metaphorically travel the world without stepping foot on foreign soil, it is now possible to re-create Barker’s view of the South Bank of London with a single click of a web link.

 

Throughout most of the 19th century, panoramic paintings provided European audiences with expansive vistas amongst elaborate scenery. Panoramas and their architectural manifestations, rotundas, became popular sites for the masses. Some offered views of urban settings or natural landscapes, whilst others displayed comprehensive surveys of historical events such as The Battle of Solferino, at the Panorama National in Paris. The panorama created an illusion, translating reality into fiction.

 

Similar to the map, the panorama builds on the premise that reality is staged and modeled, therefore partial and particular. It filters and reconstructs the past, inherently acquiring a sense of authority and power. The panorama constructs, but does not reproduce.

 

With photography succeeding painting in the 20th Century as the visual medium of importance, the reading of the panorama challenged our perception of what is real, offering a piecemeal mode of navigation through the city. By assembling landscapes from several photographs an all-encompassing view of the city is composed. The random gaze of the photographer substituted the subjective eye and hand of the painter, turning the panoramic experience into a somewhat more authentic one. In 1966, Ed Rusha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip presented a series of images of banal street facades stitched together as an almost anthropological record of the urban experience of the strip. The book, as a modern backdrop for the photographic panorama replaced the rotunda and provided a modest site of public display… more

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Simon Pennec

 

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EAST LONDON

March 26th, 2010 — 8:02pm
underground eastendstraddler
Map of the London Underground Railways, Harry Beck, 1933 (source)

 

Recently the diagram of London’s central underground network, as displayed inside the trains, changed to include the East End of London. The area shown was enlarged to introduce all stations from Notting Hill to Stratford—an endeavor that not only conformed to London’s geographic reality but also the socio-cultural significance of the East End—the area east of the medieval walled-city of London. As a visual depiction of central London, the small map displayed in the tube long excluded East London and solely represented its center, the West End and West London. Indeed this change precedes the political ambitions of the London’s Olympics and the regeneration of the Hackney Marshes… more

 

Photograph by Cameron Smith, 2008 (source)

 

Popular images of London often depict scenes from the city center and the West End. Despite an absence of tourist buses, the East is a colorful part of the city, with a unique identity, and rich character, which is often overlooked. Despite contributing to London’s success and diversity, this area lacks representation perhaps due to a history of poverty and is rarely exposed to outsiders.

 

In recent times, East London is increasingly gaining exposure as a backdrop for fashion shoots. Popping up in such magazines as Fantastic Man , The Gentlewoman etc. proves that the East is sharp. Knife crime aside, London still has an edge.

 

Simon Pennec

Erandi de Silva

 

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ROAD

March 4th, 2010 — 6:00am
reynerbanham samson
Still from Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, 1972 (source)

 

Exchanging the sidewalk for the road, the flâneur stopped walking some time ago and began driving. As the American city changed, so did the figure of urban modernity. In his travel documentary Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, the architect takes to the streets of LA in a car: ‘…freeway driving is interesting in itself, from up here, you see the most weird and extraordinary things and places you can hardly see from down below’. His voyeuristic gaze, framed by the rear-view mirror and steering wheel of his car, takes in the urban mess.

 

The car as the classic symbol of individuality serves to highlight the truly solitary condition of the flâneur. He consumes the city: an array of endless streets and infinite freeways running for miles. He drives alone, but amidst the traffic surrounding him. To Baudelaire, the flâneur was the ‘man of the crowd’. Refusing a possible isolation, for Banham, the flâneur becomes the man of the traffic. While Banham’s 1970’s documentary, reflects on the emerging car-centric culture of Los Angeles, it is clear that as of today, the city hasn’t changed and the flâneur drives on.

 

Still from Samson and Delilah, 2009 (source)

 

Imagery of the road inhabited is, perhaps unwittingly, recurring in the recent Australian film Samson and Delilah. The protagonists, indigenous teenagers Samson and Delilah, live life amongst a scatter of derelict community settlements in central Australia. The inadequate condition of housing (largely due to the government’s continued, incoherent response) means life, with all of its complexities, spills outside. In the film, buildings exist in the background; it is on, and at the periphery of roads—wide, gently convex, empty—where we sense an activation of space.

 

Absent of solids and voids, how would have Giambattista Nolli mapped the networks of habitation in the Australian desert? This is a land of inversion; a vacuum of openness, in which the built environment is a frail intrusion. From a bird’s eye, the strongest human mark is the swath of roads which carve long, asymmetrical shapes across the terrain.

 

There have been extensive writings on viewing landscapes from the seat of a car, for example Tom Wolfe’s infamous labeling of the Las Vegas urban strip as… more

 

Simon Pennec

Amelia McPhee

 

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