DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Vertical Panoramas

Filed under: Photography: Framing — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 22:38

Stairs and Skylight, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

We’ve all gotten used to the terms “landscape” and “portrait” being used to designate the orientation of a rectangular display screen, printed document, or photograph, though there’s no reason a portrait can’t be horizontal, or a landscape vertical.  I live in New York, a famously vertical city of skyscrapers, but even here most of the locals scurry around the streets like the inhabitants of Flatland, never imagining that third dimension.  In 1998 photographer Horst Hamann published a book called New York Vertical, that showed how excitingly the upward thrust of the city can be captured in a tall and narrow frame.

I believe Hamann used a 6 cm x 17 cm medium format film camera like this one (though not necessarily this brand or model).  I can’t afford one of those, so when I’ve wanted to capture a very wide or very tall view I usually just take anywhere from two to six sequential panning shots on a fairly humble digital camera, stitching them together later using computer software.  I started doing this with the Canon G1 I got back in 2001.  It came with a “stitch assist” mode that helped align such a series using the LCD viewfinder, and a program called PhotoStitch to put them together.  Today Photoshop includes a panorama merging function, and Sony has a “sweep panorama” mode where you just pan over the landscape and the camera automates the whole process.  I don’t have one of those, but I’ve had pretty good results with combining a series of photos the “old fashioned” way.

Javits Center Geometry, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt

If you’re looking at these pictures on a small screen or a short wide display you may have to scroll vertically to see the whole picture.  This is actually the most natural way to look at these pictures.  They capture a larger vertical field of view than you can take in in a glance.  They represent looking at something head-on and then tilting the head to move your view upwards, or vice versa.  When you make one of these images small enough to take in the whole thing at once, it looks very distorted.  In the shots above and below, the lower part of the picture is a straight-on view with the gaze parallel to the ground, while the upper part is seen as though the head is tilted back at a severe angle.  They represent a movement of vision, not an instant of vision.

Puck Building Fire Escape, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

The picture below shows an audience on the sidewalk, watching one of the storefront window performances at the arts organization Chashama in 2002, with the newly constructed Condé Nast building towering overhead, 48 stories high.

Welcome to Chashama Land, 2002, photo by Fred Hatt

Sometimes the tilt of the view is not from horizontal to upward, but from horizontal to downward, as in this view of the stairs going into a Subway station at the south end of Central Park.

Subway Stairs, 2003, photo by Fred Hatt

Towers and stairways are not the only vertical presence in the city.  Trees are the great mediators between earth and sky.  Here are butoh dancers Moeno Wakamatsu and Celeste Hastings, performing in the 17th century graveyard of St. Marks Church in the Bowery, where Peter Stuyvesant is buried.

Celeste and Moeno at St Marks, 2006, photo by Fred Hatt

Reddish streetlights make a bare tree at dusk look like arteries and capillaries.

Vascular Tree, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt

Here’s a view from inside “Big Bambu” a sculptural/architectural temporary evolving installation by Mike and Doug Starn on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year. (An outside view of this piece is the third photo from the bottom in this post.)

Bambu Interior, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

Finally, here’s one of Manhattan’s earliest skyscrapers, the Flatiron Building, a favorite subject for photographers since the time of Stieglitz and Steichen.

Flatiron Lamppost, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

All the photos in this post are stitched panoramas, made from multiple original shots.  See this post for a vertical panorama of the World Trade Center.

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