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The Panopticon, from Bentham's 1757 description.

Tokarev's Camera, FT-2b.
The rear of the camera is detached to show the arc of the film plane. In use, the nodal point of the lens sits at the centre of the arc described by the film plane, exactly reproducing the position of the viewer in Barker's panorama show, and the position of the warder in Bentham's panopticon.

The Figure and the Panorama

This essay begins with a survey of the panorama as a medium or form, and the panoramic format in photography, before progressing to consider how the panoramic format raises issues, particularly of what I would suggest could be called a 'visual hunger' which closely parallel issues raised in gaze theory around the notion of 'scopophilia'.

The history of panorama

The word 'panorama' is modern; it appears in the 18th century as a new coining, with classical derivation no doubt intended to impart a degree of nobility or a spurious sense of tradition. The 'pan' element derives from the Greek for 'all' or 'everything', and the 'rama' element from 'horama', a view. The word was coined for a phenomenon which, from its earliest, sat uncomfortably between the world of high culture and the world of mass entertainment.

The key date appears to be 1787, when Robert Barker applied for and received a patent for a device showing 'la Nature Ó coup d'oeil'. The essential element was that the viewer stood at a point from which, looking at a painting which filled the circumference of a circular space, he or she could, by turning, see an entire view (of a landscape, battle, or whatever) as if viewing the actual landscape from a hilltop.

The first panoramas were painted, but they also incorporated what we would today call 'multimedia' features. They were presented in specially constructed spaces, usually called rotundas (both an accurate comparison with established architectural nomenclature and a reinforcing of classical connotation). The audience would stand at the centre of a circular space with the painting filling the entire perimeter wall. Lighting, sound effects, and even movement of sections of the image all contributed to what was, by common contemporary assent, an overwhelming sensory experience. Panoramas became popular entertainments, and Richard Altick (1978) has documented their leading place among London shows. They spread rapidly throughout Britain, to the rest of Europe, and to North America.

Although the word panorama does not appear in Barker's patent, it was the name by which these installations were immediately known. Stephan Oettermann surveys the use of the word, establishing that it rapidly spread into all the major world languages and equally rapidly took on a wider sense of 'overview', being applied, for instance, to books surveying a particular branch of knowledge in which the visual element was insignificant. In fact, Oettermann notes, in some countries the word's use in this broader sense preceded the appearance of panorama shows of the sort produced by Barker.

The word 'device', used above, is not accidental. As Oettermann notes, the patent application placed the panorama in the category of practical devices or apparatus, rather than the category 'art'. It was, from the first, designed to operate upon the viewer, it's advertising (Oettermann's description of the advertising as 'bombastic' seems perfect) offering the 'gigantic', the 'sensational', and the 'grandiose'. (Oettermann, 1997, pp. 5-7.)

In art-theoretical terms, then, we can see here a deliberate attempt to overcome the subject-object separation which classical art preserved. There is an almost Dadaist intention to disturb, or at least unsettle the audience; at the very least, not to allow the audience to remain unmoved.

At the same time the panorama clearly sought to satisfy a basic human desire to 'see everything'. This aspiration to an all-seeing condition, particularly in an age where European culture still held a theological world-view in high regard, is itself a problematic thing. To see the Divine as all-seeing, and thus omniscient, would have been an established habit; God was understood, given Aquinas' following of Aristotle, as an 'unmoved first mover'; all seeing, but also separate from and above his creation. To aspire to that viewpoint oneself might well regarded as blasphemous; it is all too close to the mindset found in Isaiah, traditionally seen in biblical interpretation as a description of Satan's fall (Isaiah ch. 14, vv. 9-15). At the same time the state clearly did aspire to such a godlike and omnipotent role in the citizen's life, and frequently placed individual servants of the state in a comparable position.

The clearest example of this is the 'panopticon', a design for a prison in which the cells all radiated out from a central point, where the guard sat. The guard could see into every cell from his post, but the inmates could not see the guard. Essential to the panopticon's function was its operation on the minds of the inmates: not being able to see if the guard was observing them directly, they could only assume that he was, and behave accordingly.

It is obvious that, in all these instances, the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose X of the establishment have been attained. Ideal perfection, if that were the object, would require that each person should actually be in that predicament, during every instant of time. This being impossible, the next thing to be wished for is, that, at every instant, seeing reason to believe as much, and not being able to satisfy himself to the contrary, he should conceive himself to be so. Bentham, 1787 et. seq. Letter I.

The panopticon was designed by Jeremy Bentham, whose essay indicates clearly his own awareness of the danger that he would be charged with blasphemy, when he discusses the omnipresence of the inspector or warden with an embarrassed aside, 'if the divines will allow me the expression'. Bentham, 1787 et. seq. Letter VI. The emphasis is Bentham's. It is a remarkable coincidence that Bentham's proposal came, like Barker's patent application, in 1787, although it is also perhaps evidence of the tide of Enlightenment thought running strongly, with its advocacy of human agency as both responsible for and capable of the mastery of the material and social world, taking on a role previously understood as belonging to a theocratic order.

Etymologically, 'panorama' and 'panopticon' are essentially the same; both use the 'pan' root to convey comprehensiveness, and while one uses a Greek root and the other uses a Latin root, both link this comprehensiveness with the act of perception, of looking. Both terms are coined within a culture which is profoundly paternalistic, but, in comparison with our own, very ambivalent on issues of authority. The state reserved to itself the power to take life, and exercised that power freely; this much is unchanged today, although in modern times the power to take life is less exercised as a criminal sanction. The 18th century state, however, was both more and less liberal in its treatment of the private sphere. On matters of religion it could be intrusive in the extreme; the Jacobite wars in Great Britain, and the wider war of the Austrian Succession, show that conflicts between Protestantism and Catholicism could continue to put lives at stake. At the same time, many areas of life which we accept as governed by the state were then largely unregulated. An individual with the means could buy firearms and drugs over the counter in any moderately sized town; could beat children and servants with impunity; could express opinions on matters of race, morality, or politics with no significant fear of either criminal or civil proceedings.

Perhaps this allows us to see the 18th century world as sharing with our own the qualities of moral or ethical confusion and contradiction. The desire to intrude on others' privacy, to see into the private or forbidden; the desire to protect one's own privacy and to condemn the invasion of privacy. The blasphemous desire to know everything, and the pious desire to know one's place (with all the reassurance of a settled identity which that knowing brings).

Bentham's panopticon, although never built as a functioning prison, has become a model for systems of surveillance and control, and has attracted considerable critical discussion. It forms an important part of Foucault's analysis of the prison and of systems of punishment, and has been appropriated more recently by writers concerned with contemporary phenomena such as the monitoring of the workplace with closed-circuit television. It has been taken up, in particular, as an approach to thinking about the internet, in which surfers who may believe themselves to be the observers of a stream of data from outside are in fact observed. Surfers are observed directly, in that software interrogates their own systems to find IP addresses, or infiltrates their systems (trojans, spyware, etc.) to examine the contents of their hard drives; they are also drawn into the process of observation, in that they fill in onscreen forms to make orders, supply financial information, have their purchases logged, and are variously 'profiled' to allow marketing information such as emails or popup adverts to be tailored to their likely consumption patterns ... patterns which, as with more established media such as television and film, are constantly moulded by images and narratives presented simply as to be observed.

Mark Winokur has considered the relationship between the panopticon, particularly as analysed by Foucault, and Gaze theory as it has developed particularly in film studies. He maps out the nature of what Foucault calls the 'dyad' of observed and observer and neatly identifies the controlling nature of film as a mass-medium. We will return to Gaze theory later in this essay.

What Winokur fails to consider, however, is the relationship between the internet (itself conceived initially as a military communications network) and the intelligence functions of the modern state, which are linked above all to the state's military apparatus. The Echelon programme of the American National Security Agency, for instance, is an intelligence gathering programme which in personnel and budget dwarfs the combined resources of the FBI and the CIA.

In the greatest surveillance effort ever established, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has created a global spy system, codename ECHELON, which captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world.

Patrick Poole, 1999-2000, See also Campbell, D, 1988.

Echelon's goal, in direct parallel to the panorama, is to see everything, and to assess the value of what it sees or hears in relation to the state's pursuit of power and an ever-expanding sphere of influence.

It is apparent, then, that both the panorama and its structural cognate, the panopticon, operate ambiguously. In both, illusion operates on the mind, overwhelming it with sensation in the panorama as an entertainment, and filling it with the sense of being constantly observed in the panopticon. Taking their cognate nature a step further allows us to see the prison warder at the centre of the panopticon not merely as an active observer, but as someone whose life is just as controlled as that of the inmates; someone whose consciousness is manipulated by his own role in the system just as the consciousness of the inmates is manipulated, so that he too is groomed into an idealised social role. This is something that Bentham himself was aware of, citing:

Another very important advantage, whatever purposes the plan may be applied to, particularly where it is applied to the severest and most coercive purposes, is, that the under keepers or inspectors, the servants and subordinates of every kind, will be under the same irresistible controul with respect to the head keeper or inspector, as the prisoners or other persons to be governed are with respect to them ... In no instance could his subordinates either perform or depart from their duty, but he must know the time and degree and manner of their doing so. It presents an answer, and that a satisfactory one, to one of the most puzzling of political questions - quis custodiet ipsos custodes? And, as the fulfilling of his, as well as their, duty would be rendered so much easier, than it can ever have been hitherto, so might, and so should any departure from it be punished with the more inflexible severity.

Bentham, J. 1787 et. seq. Letter VI.

Likewise, the panorama does not simply place the audience at the centre of its spectacle; we have also to see the artist or showman as part of the device; he is both active, in that he constructs the spectacle, and passive, in that he remains subject to the market and must adapt his work to meet the demands of his audience on the one hand, and must operate within a wider set of social constraints and expectations on the other. He is more bound to it than the audience. Genre is important here, and it is interesting to see that military campaigns of various sorts were prominent in early painted panoramas: Barker was met and praised by Nelson who expressed his appreciation of what we would nowadays view as the PR function of Barker's panorama of the battle of Trafalgar. Daguerre, along with Talbot one of the pioneers of photography, similarly worked with 'multimedia' displays (he invented the diorama, an entertainment similar to the panorama, though without the circular form) and was acclaimed by Napoleon just as Barker was by Nelson.

The above, however, concentrates on the panorama as a modern invention, and it is clear that images having an extended horizontal axis have existed for centuries if not millennia before Barker's patent application. It is also quite common to find the word panorama applied to early images. We need to address this issue of definition before we can proceed.

Brandon Taylor, considering the definition of 'panorama' identifies distance as essential; that is, 'there must be distance from the subject in a true panorama, even though the exact distance may be impossible to define (Taylor, 1981, p 21).

Taylor is clearly aware of the overt intention of early panorama-shows to have an impact on their audience, nevertheless he maintains that some degree of distanced view is essential to the idea of the panoramic. He cites, for instance, Holbein's 1521 image of the dead Christ. This has an aspect ratio of approximately 6:1 and, in terms of format and composition, appears panoramic. Arguably Holbein is presenting the flesh of the corpse, which fills the image space, as a landscape, emphasising its tactile quality, which asserts Christ's humanity (an important theological issue). Holbein is clearly, however, also attempting to establish the commonality of flesh between the dead Christ and the viewer, and this not merely at an abstract cognitive level, but at a more empathetic. This too, would appear to correspond to the intention of the panorama-show. Nevertheless, Taylor asserts that, lacking distance, Holbein's image cannot be panoramic: it is 'rendered too much in close-up to be properly panoramic'. If we accept the cognate nature of panorama and panopticon we can see here an important point: in the panopticon a sort of void was to be preserved between the warder and the prisoners, emphasising the social gulf between them. Although the relationship between observed and observer is complex and bidirectional, the separation is also important. The same can be seen in the panorama; the viewer sees the battle, but does not become part of it; he or she is moved as if present, but is not present. This 'as if, but not' dynamic, then, which puts a degree of tension into the bidirectional relationship between observed and observer, is not unlike the relationship of transcendence presupposed in a traditional Christian theology. Here a relationship of mutual posession exists between God and his people ('I am your God, and you are my people') as expressed in such motifs as the church as the bride of Christ, nevertheless an 'otherness' remains, the difference between the creator and the created.

Holbein, Hans, 1521, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb
oil on wood, 200cm x 31cm. Oeffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel.


As the dimensions indicate, the painting is life-size. Its realism has been carefully analysed, given the detail with which Holbein shows the putrefaction of Christ's wounds; forensic analysis has shown the painting to show conditions consistent with a body three days after death (the time at which the resurrection took place).

I would argue that the notion of difference which Taylor identifies is significant, and a useful safeguard against an oversimplification of the observed / observer dyad. It is particularly valuable when we come to consider the figure in panoramic photography. I find it fascinating to consider Taylor's remarks in relation to the Holbein given the similarity of composition between the Holbein and some of my own early panoramic photographs, particularly the first images made with the Kodak 3A, where the figure is presented flat and supine rather than obviously 'posed'.

Shona, 6cm x 14cm on 120 rollfilm, taken with Kodak 3A Folding Brownie.

HWS, 2002.



The panorama in early photography

In comparison with photography in our own age, early photography impresses by its richness of invention and exploration. In our own age, photography is largely the domain of multinational corporations. They present products ... film and digital cameras, films, papers, inks, ... which are bought and used largely with a minimum of adaptation. Photography as it is practiced today is largely the domain of the customer, and the range of products available to the typical customer is relatively narrow. Although differences do clearly exist between countries as far as predominant traditions are concerned (Britain and Japan are largely 35mm and digital markets: America and Germany have a significantly stronger tradition of medium format and large format work) the predominant genres vary less than cultural difference might lead one to expect.

By contrast, within a few years of the invention of photography (in around 1840, taking Daguerre and Talbot as the primary initiators) a wide range of formats and types of photography had been invented and were the subject of wide experimentation. Specialised cameras for panoramic photography appear in this first decade, as too do cameras for stereo photography, as do miniature cameras ('spy' cameras) designed to be concealed in everyday objects. A wide range of photographic processes were available, with commercial products available to the interested amateur.

So rich is this early exploration of different photographic formats that even in 2004, photographers who want to work with 'alternative' methods are often driven to buying and restoring apparatus built, or at least designed, in the later part of the 19th century ... apparatus such as the Cirkut or Kodak Panoram cameras, for instance; or the large format 'banquet' cameras producing negatives up to 12" by 20". Stereo photography remained a relatively mainstream practice into the 1950s (so that modern stereo photographers largely use 1950s 35mm cameras such as the Revere or the Stereo Realist) but even so, photographers wishing to use medium format film are often reduced to working with cameras built in the early decades of the last century or the last decades of the 19th.

The technical achievements were considerable. If we consider flash photography for instance, or the high speed photography which it enabled (and for which it was primarily developed) we find key innovations within a few years of 1840. So, for instance, the work by Harold Edgerton which led to the production of electronic strobe lighting (the origins of modern flash lighting) took place in the 1930s, and took a relatively long time to enter the mainstream marketplace. Flash bulbs (where, although ignition was electric, the light was actually produced by a burning filament of magnesium) remained in use well into the 1960s. But Talbot experimented with electrical discharge as a light source in 1851, achieving flash durations as short as 1/100,000 second. (Coe, 1977, p. 225).

This early burst of energy (not just Talbot's flash!) directed into different sorts of photography can best, I believe, be understood as an attempt to satisfy the thirst to see. 'I want to see everything' serves as a surprisingly effectively rubric. I want to see images as expansive as possible, which take in as wide a view as possible. I want to see what was previously impossible to see, because it was too small (photo-microscopy) or too far away (photo-telescopy) or happened too fast (flash photography) or involved light at wavelengths outside the visible (ultraviolet and infrared photography). I want to see what was previously hidden or private (the spy camera). I want to see it more 'real' (stereo photography). And the thirst to see everything is reflected in the market which rapidly developed in photographic images; the two genres which dominated the early marketplace were foreign views, and 'risque' images.



Genre in early panoramic photography

The earliest panoramic images are 'joiners', where two or three images were placed side by side to create a wider view. Sometimes these were presented with the original shots each remaining in their own framing, distinctly recognisable as individual exposures; sometimes they were combined seamlessly (by careful printing or retouching) to create the impression of a single wide exposure. Talbot himself is credited with the first of these, and some of his joiners were only recognised as such relatively recently, so skillfully had the separate images been combined.

A predominant theme in early panoramic photography is war. A significant number of early landscape panoramas in fact show, for instance, harbour or coastal scenes which would have been of military significance (so, for instance, the joiners of Calvert Richard Jones, taken in the Mediterranean in 1845: see Jeffrey, 1999, pp. 24 & 25). George Barnard travelled throughout the American Civil War as part of the entourage of General Sherman, preparing panoramic photographs of landscapes prior to battle and thus allowing more careful preparation of battle plans. The American Civil War was also, of course, one of the first conflicts to be extensively photographed by the world's press, but it was the utility of the photograph which provided privileged access to the battlefield, rather than its news value. The poignant early photography of battlefields after the battle with which the war is widely associated can be understood as a byproduct of photography in the service of the military.

The earliest photographic panoramas were joiners, then, but cameras designed to produce a long image with a single exposure appeared very quickly. They were of two main types, 'swing lens' and 'rotational'. In both types, a lens swings round an axis and projects its image through a narrow slit onto the film. In a swing lens camera the film is stationary throughout the exposure, held in a wide arc behind the lens. In a rotational camera, the film is moved across a space immediately behind the lens, and the movement of the film is carefully timed to synchronise with the movement of the lens by a system of gears. Swing lens cameras typically see around a 180 degree view, while rotational cameras can image a 360 degree (all round the horizon) view. Rotational cameras were, from the very beginning, very expensive pieces of equipment, difficult to use, and aimed at the rapidly developing professional photography market. By contrast, early swing lens cameras such as the Kodak Panoram and the Multiscope Al Vista were relatively inexpensive devices which could be used handheld by amateur photographers. Brian Coe's survey of Kodak cameras suggests that between the various models of Kodak Panoram, over 40,000 cameras were sold between 1900 and 1928. To put that into perspective, some Box Brownie models sold several million; nevertheless these are impressive figures for an unconventional camera (Coe, 1988, pp 25-27).

It is the swing lens cameras which provide the largest number of early panoramic photographs and the richest source for anyone who would examine the early panoramic impulse. Once again a single theme seems to predominate; this time it is the city. This is evident in both the surviving images from Kodak's development work, and in the most significant collected bodies of work, such as the Panoramic Photograph Collection of the American Library of Congress (see Taking the Long View). The city is also prominent in commercially produced stereo views, such as the New York images by the Anthony brothers (See Jeffrey, 1999, pp. 40ff). It's interesting to note that stereo cameras were often adaptable to panoramic format, since the stereo image requires two side-by-side frames to be exposed together, and a camera back capable of presenting film for this to happen can also, with minor modification, allow the full double-width to be exposed as a single frame.

At this point we start to see a style of photography which we can recognise as modern. Early panoramic cityscapes are typically of busy streets and intersections.

Kodak trial picture, c. 1902 Contact print, 51mm x 171mm, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford. Taken from Jeffrey, 1999, p. 66.



This is not the rigid, posed photography of early portraiture, nor the carefully composed world of early landscape and architectural photography. People hurry about their ordinary business, traffic passes (a mixture of horse-drawn and automotive vehicles), the weather changes from sunny to wet (there is a wonderful shot by the Anthonys of a rainy New York street, the photographer evidently leaning out of a first floor office window to make the image).

The population is revealed as various, divided along lines of race, class, and gender. What emerges, in fact, is an image which only panoramic photography can offer, namely an image of humanity as, for all practical purposes, infinite. No collection of images of individuals or of small groups (the family, the guests at some society banquet, villagers in the market place, workers in a factory) can convey the intrinsic variability and, simultaneously, the universality, of humans as does the panoramic photograph of a large city.




Panoramic photography: viewing the human

As in the discussion of Kristeva and Irigaray, what emerges from a consideration of early panoramic photography is the primacy of the human subject over the gendered. What also emerges, surprisingly, is a revitalisation of gaze theory.

Gaze theory emerged in the early 1970s from two relatively unconnected pieces of writing. The first, John Berger's Ways of Seeing, in 1972, predicated the gaze as male, and as reflecting inequalities of power between the male viewer and the viewed female. Berger's essay overall was, however, more concerned with a description of perception as socially-shaped than it was concerned with issues of gender. The most significant of the ideologies informing Berger's work was the Sociology of Knowledge school, and Berger can perhaps best be seen as an epistemologist or social theorist for whom gendered knowing was simply one instance of socialised knowing.

The second essay, Laura Mulvey's Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, published in 1973, had a significantly sharper focus. Mulvey was writing primarily about cinema, and within that, primarily about the Hollywood studio system, which in 1973 still remained virtually intact as it had developed from the 1930s. Mulvey was also writing from an openly feminist position, and, more significantly, from a position in which practice led theory. It was practice (such as the protest at the 1970 Miss World contest) which was innovative, and the writing, largely anecdotal rather than theoretic, came after the event. Nevertheless, Mulvey drew on Freud's work and took from him the term 'scopophilia', literally 'a love of looking'. A closer approximation, however, would be 'voyeurism'. Scopophilia forms the centre of Mulvey's analysis of the male gaze or, more precisely, of gaze itself, which she sees as intrinsically gendered, and inevitably indicative of an inequality between the male viewer and the viewed female. The inequality is typically economic, and also physical (the viewing male is clothed, the viewed female typically naked).

It is this scopophilia which the early history of photography in general, and of panoramic photography in particular, reveals. I would contend that it is revealed as a human characteristic, rather than an intrinsically male characteristic, and yet the inventors of early photographic processes and the designers of cameras for the early market were predominantly male.

This is not to say that issues of power and gender are irrelevant, however. If we carry the history of panoramic photography on a little further, we encounter the camera which has probably become the single most significant in the history of panoramic photography. Known currently as the Horizon 202, a Russian-built 35mm camera, it is a derivative of the Horizont, which in turn is a derivative of Tokarev's FT-2. The Horizon 202 is still in production, and together with the Horizont it dominates the used camera market (roughly 80% of panoramic cameras sold via eBay, for instance, are either the Horizon 202 or the Horizont, the remaining 20% being roughly evenly shared by about six or seven different panoramic designs).

Tokarev's FT-2 (FT stands for Fotoapparat Tokarev ... Tokarev's camera; the FT-2 was the first model - there is no FT-1) was designed at the personal request of Stalin who wanted an easily portable panoramic camera which could be used to assess battlefields, in particular, to assess the results of artillery barrages. The camera is a swing-lens design. The FT-2 produces an unusually long negative (110mm, giving a roughly 1:4 panoramic ratio) while the Horizont and Horizon 202 give a negative 58mm long. It has an infinity focus, and closer objects are rendered sharp only by stopping down to increase depth of field (or else the camera has to be adapted by the user, either by introducing dioptre lenses, or by moving the focal plane back in the camera by means of some form of packing round the film gate).

Tokarev's design, then, returns us not only to the military application of early panoramic photogaphy, but also to the remote viewpoint we posited in discussing the similarity between early panoramas and the panopticon: the viewer stands in a radically different circumstance to the object of his view - in this case, the difference between the target and the gunner (though, of course, the enemy may fire back). At any rate, issues of power and control are firmly back on the agenda; the camera as an artist's tool appears only as a byproduct of military production. Ironically, Stalin's army is also the first modern army in which women were fully integrated - fighting in the front line, not merely taking 'supporting' roles as medical staff or administrators.

In fact, the one thing which the history of panoramic photography doesn't show, is the individual figure. Although there are exceptions, panoramic photography has typically shown the human figure in groups, and in the context of societal life, whether that society be at peace or at war. The human has been shown in the bustle of the city, in battle, or in the stillness after battle ... a range of situations which correlates well with the continuum I have discussed elsewhere between the eirenic and the agonistic. It has, however, relatively rarely been shown alone. This I find surprising, particularly given the relative frequency with which earlier, painted images do show the figure in this way (as, for instance, Holbein's painting of the dead Christ, discussed above. Holbein's composition is a relatively extreme form of this genre, but the depiction of a dead or dying body in a relatively rectilinear format with an extended horizontal axis is hardly exceptional; it is an established, even iconic, type for the depiction of Christ, and for other Christian imagery such as the dormition of Mary. The composition can be found in Byzantine iconography before it appears in Western European tradition and, lest we overlook the obvious, is a commonplace of mortuary sculpture both in the round and in relief.

If we return briefly to Mulvey's and Berger's focus on issues of power specifically in relation to the female nude, however, we find that much of their commentary tends towards anachronism. We have looked elsewhere at the wider context of the European tradition, and seen that portrayal of the disempowered nude male figure is actually as common as representation of the disempowered nude female figure (see The Nude in time of War). Trista di Genova has noted this limitation of Mulvey's work in particular:

the application of her analysis is largely time-specific, as the cinematic gestalt of processes that go into making a film, as well as female representation in film production, have completely transformed the industry.

di Genova, 2002.

di Genova's comments reflect changes in the structure of the mainstream (American and European) movie industry. Taken alongside the growth of the internet, where new images of naked women proliferate at a rate which probably runs into millions per week, Mulvey's and Berger's remarks seem to have been largely overtaken by events. If we look at the major glamour or porn business online, we see that women are prominent as power-brokers, with several leading paysites and content-provider enterprises run by women, and with female models from internationally-known celebrities to obscure provincials running their own websites, acting as webmaster and content provider as well as model (see I made my excuses and left). Which is not to say that power relations never disadvantage contemporary women, of course, but the idea of the gaze as an intrinsically unequal phenomenon needs radical revision.

It seems to me much more realistic to accept that gaze is not intrinsically gendered. It is, in fact, intrinsically incapable of being owned exclusively. This is an issue which has been explored in particular by Cindy Sherman, using her own body as the subject in her Untitled Film Stills series, often parodying the sado-masochistic imagery which, in Mulvey's gaze scenario, is intrinsically male. Sherman, as both photographer and model, is asserting her ownership of the gaze; that claims the gaze as a female power, or at least a power which women can wield as freely as men can wield it; equally, a power to which women can choose to subject themselves as freely as can men.

Lauren O'Neill-Butler has taken up this analysis in her 2003 essay, Ten Years Later. She claims that

Sherman challenges misogynistic viewing structures and attempts to disembody the gaze so that it belongs to no one. By performing as the model and therefore suggesting an anonymous photographer, Sherman advocates that the gaze is not necessarily male or female.

O'Neill-Butler, 2003, p. 2.

O' Neill-Butler goes on to discuss Sherman's 1992 turn away from photographing her own body, to using plastic mannequins. Although no longer photographing herself, Sherman continues to caricature the stereotypical poses of pornographic photography, and continues to subvert their service of male voyeurism. O'Neill-Butler sees a development in Sherman's theme:

if the photographs are viewed in terms of her stereotypical modes of posture, dress, and make-up, one finds a gradual transition from the whole body, to the body behind masks, to the mannequins and their parts, and finally to the total absence or obliteration of a body. In a sense, Sherman has worked on representing the dehumanization of human beings.

O'Neill-Butler, ibid.

This leads into a consideration of Kristeva's conception of abjection, particularly as read by Judith Butler, and to a discourse which posits dysfunction as not intrinsically gendered, but rather as human. This does not preclude specific instances of gendered abjection: nasty pornography, for instance, still exists. It does however preclude simplistic readings of shocking images, regardless of the gender either of the represented figure, or of the gender of the image-maker. Hal Foster's discussion of the relationship between the pornographic and the obscene is particularly useful in this context:

The obscene is a paradoxical representation without a scene to stage the object so that it appears too close to the viewer. The pornographic, on the other hand, is a conventional representation that distances the object so that the viewer is safeguarded as a voyeur.

Foster, 1996, p. 114. Cited in O'Neill-Butler, 2003, p. 5.

As O'Neill-Butler says, immediately after citing the above passage from Foster:

through its utilization of the abject, Sherman's art resists both the Symbolic and the (specifically gendered) male gaze in its location within the subversive form of the obscene rather than the pornographic.

O'Neill-Butler, ibid.

This focus on imagery which first and foremost is oriented towards existing structures of power strikes me as valuable. As we have seen elsewhere (The Nude in Time of War), the naked figure has consistently, for millennia, been represented as disempowered, and thus represented in ways which served established power structures. This does not mean that it has to be so. The naked figure can equally be subversive of dominant interests and ideologies. It retains its power to shock ... the power, to compare it with Barker's panoramas, to be 'breathtaking'. There is a direct line of descent from Manet's Olympia to Testino's photographs for the Benetton ad campaigns of the 1980s and 90s (and the billboard is one of the places we should look to find the true descendants of Barker's panoramic images; purpose made to grab and hold the attention, to manipulate the viewer).




Excursus: Why shoot the figure in panoramic format?

At this point I want to step off to one side and look at some of the possible sources for the panorama's attraction as a format for portraying the human figure. At this point I simply mean by 'panorama' an image which is significantly longer in one dimension than in the other. As a rough guide, we might say that any image with an aspect ratio greater than 2:1 is panoramic. This would roughly correspond to contemporary photographic practice, for instance, where the 6 x 12cm format on 120 roll film is generally accepted as the shortest (in terms of proportion, that is ... not to discount 35mm panoramics) of the true panoramic formats. Some photographers would argue that a wide-angle lens is essential to panoramic photography (reproducing, in effect, Taylor's argument about distance) but I would not insist on that.

We should always be wary of our rationalisations of our own motives. I present the following, therefore, with a rather detached, ironic view, as a record of reasons I have considered for my interest in the panorama; 'as for some stranger's private problem'. Their role here is really to help find a working ground somewhere between the often technically-preoccupied world of photographic practice and the problematic which we have explored above where the roles of observed and observer are characterised by ambiguities and multiplicities. Photography puts frames round things, that is, it sets limits, and the impulse to frame, to compose, is perhaps one of the most basic of the impulses which identify photography as a distinct representational practice.


It would be nice if these reflections showed some degree of convergence. If they do, then the key word would seem to be 'context'. Panoramic formats show the figure in context. As we look at the history of panoramic photography we see human figures in both social and spatial context. If we look at the connotations of the panoramic format beyond photography, we see human life in a narrative context, and often the narrative is spiritual or theological. There is no reason to see these two sorts of context as contradictory. In thinking about images I would like to try and make I find myself reflecting a great deal on context, and in reflecting on Nu Provenšal, the image by Ronis which I have taken as an icon of the eirenic nude, I return repeatedly to the paradox of an image which is always remembered as showing the figure prominently, but which on examination always surprises by how small the figure is in the overall composition. This is almost, to use Barthes' vocabulary, the photograph's punctum. In marked contrast to this, the pornographic nude typically rips sexuality out of context. Sexual encounters take place more typically between strangers, at the level of sheer physicality. The narrative is animalistic: the body is shown in extreme close-up, filling the frame not merely with flesh, but with nothing beyond a stuffed vulva. 'Fitting it all in' takes on a different meaning altogether. There is narrative here, but there is no story. Which is to say, in screenplay vocabulary, there is no wound.

Unfortunately there is the contradictory fact that one compelling reason for shooting the figure in panoramic format is precisely that it satisfies the impulse to see everything 'in one sweep' - to quote David Hockney discussing his 'Great Wall' - his own panorama (though he never calls it that) of the history of Western painting by which he seeks to identify the role of optics in representation. Hockney, 2001, p. 51.

This matter of seeing everything is compounded by a consideration of the nature of panoramic perspective. A swing-lens camera, in particular, introduces a characteristic distortion whereby objects located near the centre of the image are exaggerated in size relative to those at the edges. Fitting a figure along the panorama, this tends to increase the relative size of the pelvic area. Not only, then, does it fill the frame with flesh, it tends to fill the frame particularly with, to use an American expression, 'ass'. Or, to refer again to the Cohen lyric, it fills the frame with the delta. This unavoidably pushes the sexual into prominence and problematises the panoramic nude in relation to pornography or the erotic. It focuses more sharply the relevance I have found in Cohen's assertion of the 'healing' quality of the feminine; it is the delta which Cohen associates with 'the Alpha and Omega' (the name given to Christ in the book of Revelation) and the place of healing (see the discussion of Cohen's Light as the Breeze). This is more than finding hope in the place of birth (as in Genesis chapter 3) or the place of the promise of new life; it is healing for the soiled and the hurt, and it is found in, of all places, the cunt (neither 'vulva' nor 'vagina' actually has the inclusiveness of the word 'cunt', and both terms are far too clinical or academic). An alternative way to look at this consequence of the physics of light is to see it as giving us back the Venus of Willendorf, since that is the kind of representation of the figure that a swing-lens camera gives, particularly when shooting from close in.

In so far as this panoramic contradiction can be resolved, it can only be resolved by accepting the panoramic format as particularly appropriate for both of these representational approaches to the figure; on the one hand, it shows the figure in context better than more conventional formats, on the other hand, it shows the figure to the exclusion of all context better than do the more conventional formats ... that is, it can show the whole figure, and nothing else, and at the same time showcase sex. And these qualities are direct consequences of rules of geometry and optics; that is, images with one or other of these qualities are what the panoramic format naturally produces when used to image the nude: the figure naturally either goes along the panorama, or across it, and whichever is chosen the relation between figure and context is more extreme than it would be in a conventional format.

Of course, this does not by any means exhaust the possibilities for composition with the figure in a panoramic format. The same range of options exists as with conventional, more square formats; the figure can be cut off, folded, shown in extreme perspective; it can run diagonally across the frame; the image can include only a small detail of the figure. Nevertheless, the natural tendency remains, to use either the length of the frame for the figure, or to run the figure across the frame ... the long side of the format exerts a pull on the composition as a whole which no side of a relatively square format can exert. The image as a whole has an inevitably exaggerated quality of linearity; it stands as a line in its own context (on the page or on the wall) - often introducing either a horizontal or vertical counterpoint to an otherwise relatively square space.

In fact, technical considerations may predispose some photographic panoramas towards relatively close-up views of the figure. In panoramic cameras where the image is formed in one instant ... that is cameras which use a conventional shutter in a stationary lens ... lens coverage is typically a constraint. Any lens, regardless of its size or shape, naturally forms a circular image in the film plane. In conventional cameras, this image is cropped into a rectangle. (It was not always so: the first Kodak mass-market cameras produced a circular image, for instance). With a panoramic format, much of this image circle is 'wasted'. Given the economics of producing a marketable commodity, this is inefficient: to produce a lens of greater than average coverage for a given focal length is typically an exorbitant exercise. Instead, then, of designing the camera for infinity focus, and extending the lens to provide closer focus (or relying on stopping the lens down) one obvious solution is to design the camera for relatively close focus, thus allowing it to be built with a lens which would otherwise be incapable of covering the whole negative. Cameras do exist which are designed upon this principle from the outset ... the Polaroid MP series, for instance, uses lenses originally designed for a 6x9cm negative; the cameras, however, are built to shoot 4x5 inch negatives, typically at magnifications of 1:1, where the bellows extension (at 1:1 it is twice the focal length of the lens, not taking into account any telephoto factor) allows a lens with a normal angle of coverage to comfortably fill a larger format. In my own work with the Kodak 3A, adapting it to shoot 120 film, I found that my early attempts to use relatively modern lenses retrieved from medium format cameras pushed me into shooting the figure from distances of less than 1 metre specifically to ensure complete coverage of the negative (or, alternatively, to accepting a marked degree of vignetting and incorporating that into the composition - see Karlsruhe panoramic nudes).



Summing up: The panoramic gaze.

I would propose four theses on the panoramic gaze:

1. The panorama is cognate to the panopticon; both are bi-directional, that is, they are constructed with the intention of moving the observer or viewer, and they put the observed, apparently a passive or disempowered object, in a role where influence on the viewer is unavoidable.

2. There is a tension between the viewer and the viewed, and, parallel to that, between the creator of the panorama and the object depicted. That is to say, in spite of the relationship established by the bidirectional nature of panoramic gaze, a difference remains. This difference is not merely a difference of power, as early gaze theory might lead us to suspect. I believe this tension or difference may well be irreducibly problematic and that, indeed, this may be part of the intrinsic appeal of the panorama.

3. The panoramic gaze, in contrast to the quality of gaze implied by other formats, tends towards the all-enveloping, and here too there is an intrinsic tension: on the one hand the panoramic gaze fills the visual space with the figure to the exclusion of all else, which can be seen as a particularly obsessive or intense form of scopophilia; on the other hand the panoramic gaze tends towards setting the figure in its widest context. It is interesting here to refer back to the photographs of the nude which I have taken as exemplary of the eirenic and the agonistic nude (the images by Ronis and Newton, neither of which is in a panoramic format, indeed, the Ronis image was shot with a 6x6 camera). The Ronis, placing the figure in a broad visual context (the paradoxically detail-rich image of a simple, rustic room) parallels the panoramic gaze as a broad, context-setting gaze; the Newton, shot against a content-free studio backdrop, with the confrontational figure dominating the image space, parallels the more intensely scopophilic aspect of the panoramic gaze - the panoramic gaze, if you like, as 'figure-hungry'.

4. There is, historically, a constantly recurring connection between the panorama as an image format, and the exercise of state power, particularly military power. This is apparent from the early panoramas of empire-establishing battles to the direct role of panoramic imaging in military campaigns, from Sherman's campaigns in the American South, through to artillery observation in the 20th century. If we accept the analysis of the internet as a modern panopticon, then the role of the panoramic gaze in supporting the state is thoroughly contemporary, and the Echelon programme is the ultimate scopophilic gaze. This consideration also, for me, reinvigorates the discussion of parallels between pornographic imagery of women, and 'ethnographic' imagery by westerners which has served racist western ideologies of the 'primitive'. This is what Ann Kaplan has identified as a parallelism between a Mulveian male gaze, and the 'Imperial Gaze' (Kaplan, 1997).

These four theses sit naturally alongside the notion of interrogation which I have discussed in a separate essay, and which problematises the gaze, I believe, far more profoundly than does traditional Gaze Theory. That is to say, the interrogator's gaze takes intrusion or invasion to the highest degree, culminating, as it often does, in the complete destruction of the observed. At the psychological level, however, or considering what we might call the 'soul', the interrogator's gaze also destroys the interrogator. It empties his soul of the capacity for relationship, an emptying typically paralleled by the removal of the capacity for peaceful sleep. Not infrequently, this leads to suicide. Franz Fanon wrote eloquently of this over forty years ago in The Wretched of the Earth. Nevertheless, the bidirectionality of the relationship between the interrogator and the interrogated retains a vital difference, and, if forced to choose between the two, many people would rather have the interrogator's role. As we observed in the essay on the interrogator, however, that choice is not one we can make for anyone else. I would choose the interrogator's role for myself. Some would choose to be interrogated. And many would choose to avoid the scenario altogether.

In thinking about the interrogator, however, we are thinking about photographic imaging generally. The cognates in this case are very direct: the photographic lens, with the black space (the camera obscura) behind it, and the eye of the interrogator, with behind it, for want of a better word, his soul.

When we introduce the panorama, then, or the panorama-panopticon pairing, we push this parallelism of interrogator and interrogated to its extreme. We raise the stakes, making the interrogation which is photography either more scopophilic (and correspondingly more invasive) or more mutual. This is not a simple matter, clearly, of composition (figure along the frame = scopophilia = invasive = unwelcome: figure across the frame = eirenic = mutual = welcome). It is about what the photographer and the model choose. Choice, of course, is not always entirely free, and we rarely look back over a life of choices with complete contentment. When Leonard Cohen, in Light as the Breeze, kneels at the delta, his need for healing and peace does not simply presupposes that he has been a victim, the object of other people's abuse; it presupposes that he has screwed up all on his own account, that he more than anyone else is to blame for his fucked up state. Just as emotional damage is, or can be reflexive, so both the subject and object of scopophilic gaze can be in the role by choice. Both the photographer and the model can be playing both voyeur and exhibitionist at the same time. The parallel is unavoidable with SM play, where the old saying remains true that often the person really in control of the scenario is the one playing the overtly submissive role.

Compositionally, in fact, both the figure along the frame and the figure across the frame add information (in comparison, that is, with more conventional formats). The one adds more information about details of the figure ... gets more of it in, get more of it in the shot at a closer range; the other gets more information about context, gets more of the room or the landscape in and thus, perhaps, more of the story. The one view is synoptic, the other analytic. We can think of the two basic compositions as shots in a scene, with a film language moving naturally between the establishing shot and the head shot, reframing the narrative in relation to changing characters and circumstances. But on this view, both the actor and the director are authors, both exercise choices, both have interests which they seek to serve and both are subject to pressures and constraints which sit outside of the immediate context ... that is, which are offstage. Or, if they are onstage, they belong to the world of subtext, or to the private, interior world behind the eyes. We may like to think that we can read the subtext, that we can infer from what we see in the image something of what lies within the photographer / director or within the model / actor. In the last analysis, however, what we have is only an image. The dark space remains dark, and like a camera with a light leak, to breach the darkness is to destroy the image.



Harry Smart, January 2004


Bibliography with notes

Altick, Richard D., 1978, The Shows of London, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press.

Bayer, Jonathan, 1981, The Panoramic Image in Photography, pp. 27 - 32 in Sweetman, 1981a.

Bentham, Jeremy, 1787 and later. Published in facsimile in Bozovic, 1995, pp. 29-95; available online at

Berger, John, Ways of Seeing, 1972, London, Penguin Books in collaboration with the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Bozovic, Miran, 1995, Jeremy Bentham: The Panopticon Writings, London: Verso.

Butler, Judith, 1990, Gender Trouble, New York: Routledge.

Campbell, Duncan, 1988, "Somebody's Listening", New Statesman, 12th August 1988, pp. 10 - 12. Available online at Campbell's article is the first published piece on the Echelon system.

Coe, Brian, 1978, Cameras: From Daguerrotypes to Instant Pictures, Gothenburg, Nordbok. Coe devotes a whole chapter to panoramic cameras, chapter 15 of op. cit. pp. 169 - 176.

Coe, Brian, 1988, Kodak Cameras: The First 100 Years, Hove, Hove Foto Books.

di Genova, Trista, 2002, A Problematization of Laura Mulvey's Gaze Theory. Available online at

Fanon, Franz, 1961, Les DamnÚs De La Terre, widely available in English translation in various editions worldwide as The Wretched of the Earth.

Foster, Hal, 1996, "Obscene, Abject, Traumatic," in October, Issue 78, Fall, 1996.

Foucault, M. 1977, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, tr. Alan Sheridan, New York, Vintage Books. The section on 'panopticism' is at pp. 195 - 228.

Gatrall, Geoff, 2001, Between Iconoclasm and Silence: Representing the Divine in Holbein and Dostoevskii, Bulletin Of The American Comparative Literature Association, Volume 53, Number 3, Summer 2001, pp. 214 - 232. Abstract online at

Gatrall doesn't concentrate on Dostoevski's well-documented encounter with the Holbein painting in Basle, nor on the passage in The Idiot where he draws on that encounter for an event in the life of Ippolit. Instead he discusses Dostoevski's attempt to create a modern Christian iconography in the story, The Grand Inquisitor.

Christ appears in 16th-century Seville at the height of the Inquisition, not in his transfigured form, but in the "image of a man ... Yet despite this human form, Ivan draws Christ┤s image with words that are nominalistic and reverently non-sensual: rays of "Enlightenment" flow from Christ`s eyes, and he walks with a smile of "infinite compassion." By contrast, Ivan portrays the Grand Inquisitor, with his "sunken eyes" ... The image of a silent Christ, lit only by a candle in a dark prison cell, shines forth in the cross-fire of the Grand Inquisitor`s word. Gatrall, 2001, op. cit.

Hockney, David, 2001, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, London, Thames and Hudson

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Kristeva, Julia, 1982, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, New York: Columbia University Press.

Mulvey, Laura, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", in Kaplan, A, 2000, Originally printed in Screen, Vol. 16, no.3, 1975.

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