The Panoramic Photographer

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

The Panoramic Photographer – R P Moore Studio

From 1923 until 1931 the R P Moore studio operated from 80 Manners Street in Wellington and specialised in commissioned panoramic views of up to 200 degrees. R P Moore was, first and foremost, a commercial photographer. His undoubted success in business was not only the result of his ability to sell, but also due to the quality of the product. Sixty to seventy years later, many of his prints hang, still treasured, in the institutions, businesses and houses for which they were made.

The studio’s photographers traversed New Zealand on commissions from the Government Tourist Department. Before travelling to specific areas, they contacted the more established local firms, institutions and individual property owners, making their services known and thus securing further commissions.

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

The Camera and Negatives

The camera used by the Moore photographers was the most technologically superior available, the No. 10 Cirkut camera made by Graflex Inc., New York. By means of a clockwork motor, the camera traversed a circular track that gave a range of up to 360 degrees (although the Moore studio rarely exceeded 200 degrees). As the camera moved from one side to the other, taking up to a minute, the mechanism simultaneously unrolled the film, each exposure being the full height of the negative but only about 8mm wide. The photographer could only determine the direction and scope of the camera’s path. There was no viewfinder and the required exposure had to be guessed. The equipment included a tripod that could be extended up to almost five metres and which came with its own ladder.

The negatives, averaging a metre in width, generated seamless images of great clarity.  Because the extent of these views replicated the act of looking, the panorama prints were very saleable objects

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

R P Moore

Robert Percy Moore was born in Christchurch in 1881. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but he seems to have begun his photographic career in Australia. During World War I he was working in Queensland specialising in postcard views.

His earliest-known panoramas date from around 1919 when he had a studio in Sydney.  After eight years in Wellington from 1923 to 1931, he returned to Australia. He was back in New Zealand by 1936, because, from that year until 1941, he was based in Rotorua working in partnership with James Thompson at the Panora Studio. In 1941 he returned to Australia, and he died in Sydney seven years later.

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

The Panorama

We are so used to having pictures of landscapes around us it is hard to realise that such representations have been around for only the last 400 years. Until then landscape was used only as a background to stories about gods and goddesses or Christian stories. Pictures of landscape alone originated in 16th century Holland. The actual word “landscape”, as Simon Schama says in his recent book Landscape and Memory, “entered the English language, along with herring and bleached linen, as a Dutch import at the end of the sixteenth century.” Our experience of the landscape is of a big space, and consequently, over the past 400 years, landscape pictures have tried to get past the confines of the frame. It is the difference between looking at a view through a window and standing outside looking at the view.

By the beginning of the 18th century this had developed into a type of landscape picture known as “the view”. The aim was to show an actual place, in a way that created a sense of being there, by suggesting light and space. As the 18th century progressed “the view” picture developed into the panorama. This wider view had several origins. For instance, some of the earliest English examples were made by surveyors, and this practical charting of a real landscape is still part of the urge to make panoramas.

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

The panorama form developed further in the 19th century and became increasingly “photographic”. Although the processes of photography were not publicly announced until 1839, the earliest of them were discovered in the mid-1820s, and the first photographers automatically imitated the picture-making of the contemporary painters. From that time the panorama featured strongly in the history of photography right through to the end of the 1920s, and the work of the R P Moore studio represents a pinnacle of its achievement.  Since the mid-1980s, with a resurgence of interest in 19th century photographic forms and processes, the panorama has experienced a real revival.

By Peter Ireland

Peter Ireland is an artist and an independent curator with a special interest in photography

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