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The Bigger Picture: The Panoramic Image and the Global Imagination

  • Author(s): Belisle, Brooke
  • Advisor(s): Williams, Linda
  • et al.

Critiquing contemporary elisions of the digital and the global, this dissertation traces how the imagination of a "total view" has been mediated through the mutable concept, media technologies, and aesthetic formats of the panorama. It approaches the aspiration "to see the bigger picture" as a paradoxical desire inscribed within visual representation and embodied experience, and follows this desire through visual culture from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. It demonstrates how the panorama's formal ambition--to expand the frame of representation and coordinate multiple, discrete images into an overarching view--has resonated with ambitions of geo-political coordination, negotiating impacts of empire, industrialization, and globalization.

Tracing the "bigger picture" from painting through photography, cinema, and digital media, this project shows how shifting strategies of panoramic representation correlate with shifting ideas of totality and coherence, and with ways spatio-temporal relationships are re-patterned through changing technologies of communication, circulation, and control. It contextualizes contemporary metaphors such as the network and database--which relate a global view with technologies mediating that view--within a longer tradition of figuring complex multiplicity, disjunct coordination, and possibilities of connection.

This dissertation revisits the wrap-around panoramas now seen as precursors of virtual reality and the scrolling panoramas now remembered in relationship with cinema; but it corrects a blind spot in the history and theory of visual media by emphasizing how early photography was shaped by, and helped transform, expressions of the panoramic ideal. It considers photographic sets, stereoscopic panoramas, and other overlooked examples from the nineteenth century alongside contemporary artworks that blend photographic, cinematic and digital strategies. It recovers hybrid possibilities for visualizing multiplicity and relationality that emerged between the advent of photography and film, and which reappear today alongside potentials of digital technology and contemporary experiments in media art.

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