Panoramic View of the Past

History Through the Wide Lens

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a panoramic must be worth a million..........

Photography is a visual record of history and culture. Photos bring time and place alive allowing individual emotional connection to the small glimpse of the period in which they were taken. Historians often use photographs to support their theories or explore new perspectives. But the value of the photo goes beyond mere historical proofs, it is the ability to preserve cultural heritage by simply displaying it.

Photography’s long existence and its unique ability to freeze time and communicate emotion through an honest capture of the beauty and flaws of the world make it an excellent medium to study history. After all, what one person sees and finds important will not always be the same to the next individual.

Panoramic photos, according to the History of Panoramic Photography, by the Library of Congress was a natural progression of photography following the creation of normal photography. What actually is a panoramic photo? As a simple explanation, and in no means to disrespect a greater art form, it all has to do with aspect ratio. A typical photograph has a maximum ratio of 2 to 1, for example a 3 by 5 photo ratio is 1.6 to 1. For a photo to be panoramic the length of the photo must be 3, 4, 6, or 7 times longer than the height, 12 inch by 36 inch are common examples in the Park Archive, but there are plenty of other aspect ratios that can be found in panoramas. Besides just aspect ratios a panoramic photo just contains more than a normal photo simply because it is created differently.

Is there a stronger context when more of an image is available? Does it feel like more of that day and place are seen?

44th infantry supply corp taken in 1920 outside of brick barracks possibly montgomery street barracks in the presidio of San Francisco
44th infantry taken outside the Montgomery Barracks in the Presidio of San Francisco

Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Sam Llewellyn Scovel 44th Infantry Regiment Photographs, GOGA 36953


People From the Past

Is anyone smiling?

As photography became more prevalent and moved away from just landscapes, it became apparent that people wanted photos of humanity. The photographic process at that period took a long time to complete. Was it difficult to smile for that long? Some backgrounds have blurs that resemble people, could it be that since the process cost so much people barely moved? When looking at these photos of troops it is important to realize a photograph is often only surface deep and there may be a backstory and future that cannot be known.

The albums below are separated by something distinct, often it is the only thing easily identified; perhaps it is the background, a specific unit, or maybe by the family who donated the photo. The photos are full of faces frozen in time, evoking the idea ofmosquito trapped in amber. Do these photos help tell a story or raise more questions?

It’s surprising and fun to find a smiling face. Have you found any yet?


Just People

91st Observation Squad at Crissy Field in 1921
91st Observation Squadron at Crissy Field in 1921

Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Arthur E. Lundburg Panoramic J.D. Givens Crissy Field Photograph, GOGA 36866


Beyond Faces

What can a landscape panoramic tell?

Simply defined, a landscape is natural. It includes imagery of mountain’s, rivers lakes, and natural landmarks. A landscape photo should transport the viewer to the place. According to the panoramic history, the need to capture the expanse of a landscape was the initial reason for the invention of panoramic photography. Prior to the invention of panoramic cameras, people used individual daguerreotype plates, aligned correctly and in sequence, to create a panoramic view .

A good landscape photo will create a connection, sharing the soul of the place with the viewer, but panoramic photos served many functions The military used the panoramic function for just such views to better plan. By knowing the military used these photos to study their opponents, tactics, or environment gives the modern observer a military bias perspective. Landscape panoramics were also instrumental in creating the National Parks, expressing the majesty and necessity of these locations. The photograph shared the park with those who could not go.

Find a detail to focus on or gaze across time and place, there is value in both approaches.


Places to See

Presidio Fire Dept No. 2
Presidio Fire Engine Number 2

Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Durenmatt Family Papers, GOGA 17729


Things Memorialized

Why are there always pictures of dogs?

Since the camera was invented people wanted more than to just capture portraits of humans and places. Depicting animals and the environment around humanity has been popular since drawing in caves.

Photography as an art form was made acceptable by the inclusion of all the things that enrich people’s lives . It was as natural as moving from people to landscapes, then to animals and things. Cute furry creatures always draw a crowd, so taking pictures of them must be good. Horses and mules were integral in moving both humans and their things for centuries, As the vehicle replaced the horse in humans’ livesphotos of vehicles became about showcasing the unique purpose and personality of the vehicle;giving vehicles an almost living quality like some of the subjects of photography.

These themes draw people into a picture and can help expand the stories and activities beyond face and place.


What Else Could We Need?


Images within these albums may be used for any legitimate non-commercial public or press use with proper credit given to the National Park Service. If you have any questions or additional information on these images, please contact the Park Archives and Records Center’s reference archivist at 415-561-2807 or e-mail us.

Last updated: March 12, 2024

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