meeting personally with Cliff Crutchfield I spent several
hours on his website looking at each of his panoramic images
carefully. On his website, Crutchfield
displays his "navigable" interiors using QuickTime
VR, which allow the viewer to take a virtual tour through
3-dimensional space, with his gallery of landscape panoramas,
which I will concentrate on in this article.
30 years of experience in commercial photography, Crutchfield
discovered a photographic art that appeals both to his aesthetic
sense and his interest in computer graphic technology- navigable
panoramas. He uses two different types of panoramic camera:
a Panoscan camera system, using a tri-linear CCD scanner,
and a Seitz Roundshot 28/220, which uses panoramic film. Crutchfield
admitted to me he is not specifically interested in landscape
photography, but rather he is definitely interested in the
panoramic format and the computer technology which extends
the capabilities of this medium into virtual space. He does,
however, also appear to have an affinity for the spectacular
local landscape, of which he has a singular means of capturing
has a sense of what makes a panoramic image effective, which
requires an understanding of how a 360 degree view is going
to look on a flat rectangular panel. Choosing the sight for
a panoramic image is very precise; it requires that Crutchfield
be aware of the distances of objects in all directions and
have an understanding of the visual vertical and horizontal
elements. With a panoramic camera, the viewer and camera are
at the center point of a circular view, in which the foreground
elements are equidistant from that center point of view. Thus,
in one sense, the camera captures a panoramic view which is
at a certain radial distance from the center. Similar to a
landscape photograph, the visual continuity of the resulting
image is contingent upon the elements of light/shadow, form,composition
and color. Using a 360 degree panoramic format, however, requires
an additional aesthetic understanding, because the photographer
has to predict what a curved or cylindrical space will look
like in a flat format.
I went to the Grand Canyon in June and used the panoramic
setting on my camera to capture what I thought was a spectacular
180 degree view.
To my dismay, my pictures came back as flat, washed out, and
visually uninteresting. In contrast, it is obvious in Crutchfield's
case that his panoramic images are successful, as they are
vibrant, engaging, balanced, and rhythmic.
To have a sense of the 360 degree visual, take a moment to
visualize the space you are sitting in. Stay in the same spot
and turn in a circle, looking at what surrounds you and what
the distance of various objects is in relation to your point
of view. Try to imagine the space which encircles you as layed
out flat out in front of you, considering the resulting "distortion"
of objects and space.
I attempted to do the opposite as I looked at Crutchfield's
panoramic imagery: I visualized myself at the center of his
images with the landscape surrounding me. The work entitled
"Virgin Gorda" especially captivated me, as I tried
to make visual sense of the curvature of the sand, the sources
of light and shadow, and the movement of the beach scape.
I had some intellectual insights into this process, yet emotionally
I found Crutchfield's panoramas to be very compelling. Even
before I tried to "figure out" the space, I felt
that looking at these panoramas evoked a process, rather than
a static experience, which allowed me (the viewer) to develop
an intimate relationship with his images.
As a teacher of drawing and painting, I wanted to understand
how these images could be at once full of depth, but also
"distorted" and visually defiant. For the sake of
example, I will read "Goblin Valley" from left to
right. On the left-most side of the image you will note that
the shadows are to the left of the hoodoos and the highlights
are on the right. Then just to the right, you can see the
sun in front of your field of view, which makes the shadows
on the hoodoos directly facing the viewer. Towards the center
of the image, the shadows are on the right side of the hoodoos.
As you continue to move right past the center you will notice
a patch of saturated light on the middle ground; this highlight
area visually indicates that the source of light is directly
behind you. And as you hit the far right of the image the
shadows are again on the left of the hoodoos, closing the
visual circle of view. Each piece of this image has depth
in and of itself as the lights and shadows are continuous;
but as a whole, a visual illusion takes place as the lights
and shadows curve in front of you because of the apparently
"shifting" light source.
In addition to this fascinating illusionary effect, the visual
movement of the light and shadow in the complete 360 degree
view expresses rhythm and harmony in the composition of the
image. In "Goblin Valley" the eye reads the rhythm
by the repitition dark, light, dark, light pattern created
throughout the image. There is an underlying unity to image,
as well, which may be due to the fact that the image shows
the entire circular field of view. And although, it is not
immediately obvious one can intuitively sense that the image
is somehow complete (as is a closed circle).
Although, quiet, patient,and reserved, I found Crutchfield
to have an active, curious and passionate mind. It is apparent
in both his work and manner he is thoughtful and insightful.
And, like his Panoscan camera system, he steadily and centeredly
takes in his surroundings in an exquisite state of "being
will be having a exhibit of his landscape panoramas at the
Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City, from October 11th to November
8th. You can view his work on-line at www.digitalpanoramas.com.