My Panoramas Explained
Untitled from the series (I love) MARRAKECH(!)
Some have asked about the consistent use of panoramas during my latest Postcards from America trip. Actually, I have used it many times before - particularly in Marrakech in late 2013 - but it’s true that more recently, in Oklahoma and in the Inland Empire of California, I used it a lot. In both places the landscape is wide and flat (great swathes of dormant wheat and cornfields in one; vast deserts in the other) and so this very particular format seemed appropriate.
On a technical level I should explain how they are made. I stopped using my beautiful and trustworthy Horseman 5”x4” camera about a year ago, simply because the price of film and processing became so high it was discouraging me from making new work. For a while I borrowed an Alpa body and Phase One back, before deciding to bite the bullet, get a bank loan, and invest in my own. I now use an Alpa 12 Max, a beautifully engineered technical body made in Zurich, paired with a Phase One IQ260 digital back, also a remarkable thing. The camera body offers the possibility of making FOUR different exposures covering the entire movements of the body (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right) to produce an image of over one gigabyte, although I rarely use this function. The panoramas are made with two exposures, simply by sliding the back left and right, leaving the rise and fall function for keeping my verticals straight. I then choose the best (or most appropriate) images, one on the left, one on the right, and put them together in Photoshop, using ‘Photomerge’. The fact that the camera doesn’t move during the exposures ensures that the results are perfectly seamless and distortion free.
Now, even if I were to slide the back across as fast as possible the two images would still be made two or three seconds apart, meaning the resulting merged image didn’t actually ‘happen’ exactly as it appears. But instead of fretting about this I celebrate it, and sometimes left and right are several minutes apart. While the purists among you may lift your hands in despair and ‘unfriend’ me, first consider the veracity and objectivity of any ‘documentary’ photograph… I’m simply playing with this conundrum, making pictures in which what we see did take place, though not necessarily at the same time.
Meanwhile, I’m continuing to use my camera in a more ’straight’ way... Images of a more conventional shape are made with just one frame.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin (N32nd and Auer Ave) 06/04/14 from the series Postcards from America V: Wisconsin