A Brief History
NMSU Archives and Special Collections (ASC) has a number of panoramic images in its collections. Most date from the early to mid-1900s. These images capture military installments, mining operations, events, and landscapes across New Mexico. Panoramic photography came into existence not long after the development of photography itself. Photographers wanted a better way to show city views and landscapes than what traditional photography allowed. The earliest panoramas were created by shooting single images of a scene and repositioning the camera after each shot. The daguerreotype plates or wet-plate negatives used at the time were then placed side by side to create the panoramic image. This method typically used two or three plates but could have more, especially when trying to create a 360-degree view.
As photographic technology advanced, two new methods of capturing panoramas were developed. One method involved using a swing-lens camera in which the film remained stationary while the camera lens rotated and the second method involved a rotating lens and rotating film. These early, dedicated panoramic cameras used curved daguerreotype plates, or sometimes a curved wet-plate glass. An 1843 Austrian patent for a hand cranked swing lens camera used daguerreotype plates measuring 19 to 24 inches long. Can you imagine trying to process these large, curved images?In 1904, Kodak released the Cirkut camera. It had both rotating lens and film, could produce negatives 5-16 inches tall and up to 20 feet long, and could create a full 360-degree view. Kodak film in preloaded cartridges was loaded into the camera, the shutter adjusted, the clockwork motor wound, the switch turned, and the camera would begin its rotation. The shutter was a narrow slit the same height as the film. The exposure would end when the switch was flipped back, allowing the photographer to control the angle of view. The Cirkut camera was a popular choice with commercial photographers. It is likely that many of the early 20th century panoramas in our collections were shot using a Cirkut. These large format panoramas were contact printed, meaning the negative was placed directly on light sensitive paper and exposed to a light source, so the image size seen in the print is the size of the negative.
Featured Panoramic Photographers in the Collections at NMSU
Almeron Newman, a prominent panoramic photographer in the Southwest, shot several of the panoramas in the collections at ASC. He was born in Michigan in 1875. By 1899, he was living in Deming, New Mexico where he operated the Newman Photographic Company. He moved around between there, Arizona, and Colorado during his career. His local advertisements claim use of “the largest, best panoramic camera in the world” and offered “interiors, flashlight, instantaneous, panoramic, balloon and night photography.” He traveled throughout the Southwest photographing group portraits for companies, events, military installments, landscapes and more.
Another prominent Southwest photographer whose work featured panoramas was Roliene Banner. Born in Texas in 1876, R. Banner—as his work is stamped—traveled throughout the Southwest at the turn of the 19th century working as an “artist of a high order.” By 1912, he had opened a studio in downtown Las Cruces on the corner of Court and Water streets. He advertised up to date portrait work and photographed several well-to-do citizens, like the Martin Amador family. Banner also had an interest in moving pictures. He was involved with the Crystal Theater and the Open Air Picture Show in Las Cruces and he and a partner leased a theater in Silver City to show films in 1914.
Jim A. Alexander operated a photography studio in El Paso for 25 years. He was born in 1870 and died on July 1, 1929 after a long illness. He was beloved by many and according to the El Paso Evening Post in 1929, was the first and possibly only stateside photographer to make a studio portrait of Pancho Villa. He took numerous photographs of the Mexican Revolution. He also worked as a travelling photographer, spending time in the Sacramento Mountains and White Sands. In 1914, he set up a second studio in Cloudcroft, NM. He knew the area so well he would lead travel parties through the mountains. His landscape photography and panoramas highlighted the vast New Mexico scenery.
The panoramas in the collections of ASC are always a wonder to look at. If you are able, when safe to do so, make an appointment to view them in person, or browse our online database, archphotos.nmsu.edu, using the search terms “panorama” or “panoramic”.