The Big Picture

The Big Picture: Panoramic Views of California
July 26, 2006 through April 27, 2007

Unknown photographer, Catalina Island, gelatin silver print, c. 1900. Collection of The Society of California Pioneers, gift of Mrs. A. Bielke.
Unknown photographer, Catalina Island, gelatin silver print, c. 1900.
Collection of The Society of California Pioneers, gift of Mrs. A. Bielke.

Photography is a medium that had been in existence for less than ten years when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. Indeed, California and photography can be effectively said to have grown up together. Early California photographers honed their craft by experimenting with and expanding on the quality and range of the images they photographed. One result of this experimentation was the panoramic image, providing the viewer with “the big picture” of the region’s cities and landscapes. Every ”big picture” is composed of a series of individual photographs lined up horizontally to create a wide-angle view. Made at first using several photographic plates and later with landscape cameras, the panoramic view enjoyed recurring waves of popularity throughout the 19th century.

Eadweard Muybridge, Panorama of San Francisco, from California Street Hill, 1877 Albumen silver print from wet – collodion glass plate negative.
Eadweard Muybridge, Panorama of San Francisco, from California Street Hill, 1877
Albumen silver print from wet – collodion glass plate negative.

Panoramic photographs serve as important records of California’s past, giving in a literal sense the broadest view of how the state developed from the early 1850s on. A few panoramas were made in the form of daguerreotypes, but most were done using albumen prints or gelatin silver prints. Many of the spectacular images in the exhibition are the work of California’s finest photographers, including Eadweard Muybridge, Carlton Watkins, William Shew, and Willard Worden. From the rapidly altering skyline of San Francisco and the stark beauty of California’s gold fields to the terrors of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire and the pre-Tinseltown torpor of Los Angeles pueblo, these big pictures are treasures for the professional historian and casual viewer alike.

This exhibition was curated by Marcia Eymann, co-editor of Silver & Gold: Cased Images of the California Gold Rush and a frequent curatorial consultant in the Bay Area. All the exhibited works come from the permanent collection of The Society of California Pioneers.

Return to exhibitions page