The Puddletown Panorama

A new project!

December 2nd, 2016.

So, I have a new project in my sketchbooks…..actually, I have already built a scale model of it, so I guess it is off the page already.  DOOP will remain on his trail, but it is time for something new.

The Idea:  I have had a fascination with stereo-photography (3d photos) since I saw my first Victorian stereo-card as a kid – those funny side-by-side photos mounted on a card which, when viewed properly, drop you back into a three dimensional world of a time long ago. Eventually I started taking my own stereo-photos which led to me becoming a “stereoburner”, a term I coined a few years ago for those of us 3d photographers who also belong to the Burning Man community.

 

Examples of contemporary stereocards, the last one styled to look like an early 20th century card.

 

Most years there is a small display of 3d imagery at Burning Man, but aware of how many folks have recorded the event in stereo, and over how long (stereo-photography has been present at Burning Man for at least 20 years), I have been frustrated that the community doesn’t get to see more of this magical record of our city, it’s people and art, in a form that is itself art. Why not take the art to the people, literally, by building a mobile exhibit space that can be moved from camp-to-camp, installation-to-installation, throughout the event? And not just at Burning Man, but to audiences beyond the dust.

I’m not sure when things started to meld, but at some point in the last 18 months this wish, to bring stereo-imagery to the playa and elsewhere, fused with another notion I have harboured for years – to build a reproduction of a Kaiserpanorama.  You can google “Kaiserpanorama” to get the full scoop on these beasts, but in brief, they were huge, stereo-viewers for multiple, stereo, magic lantern slides that could be viewed by up to 25 people at a time, manufactured between 1883 and about 1912 ish.

A Kaiserpanorama from the 1890s.

Hey, where better than Burning Man to build a room-sized stereo-viewer, right!  But after that, then what?  Where else could I use it? Where would I store it? What if I made a smaller, portable version? One that could go to Burning Man, but could also be used as a mobile exhibition space, a gallery, taken to other venues (science museums, Maker Faires, schools, photo galleries, etc., etc.) and used to show all manner of stereo subject matter.  A way to connect an antique method of viewing 3d images with present day stereo artwork. Stereo-cards remain a very popular format for today’s stereo-photographers, with active worldwide cards exchanges, competitions and more.  A format that all still stereo-imagery can be presented in.  And then there are the tens of thousands of antique views that can, of course, be enjoyed today.

….and that is how The Puddletown Panorama was conceived.

The Platform:  After lots of thinking I came up with the concept of  a scaled down, table top, multi-station viewer, installed on a mobile platform that could be taken from place to place, event to event.  Unlike the inspirational Kaiserpanorama, which had an internal mechanism that rotated the images past viewing stations, my panorama will be made up of multiple card viewers set on a rotating table top.  This means that people would not only have to interact with the piece by rotating the sets of cards within each viewing station, but they would have to coordinate with each other to rotate the entire assembly of viewers to see the next set of cards. Hopefully this will also encourage stimulating conversation between all concerned.

The scale model of the Puddletown Panorama.

The Puddletown Panorama (PtP) is based on constructing five card viewers, arranged like the spokes of a wheel, on the rotating table-top.  The viewers are designed along the lines of the classic, box-like, tabletop stereo-viewers found in many well-to-do Victorian parlours, each containing a vertically rotating carriage holding 12 cards.  Visitors will sit at the table, rotate it until a set of lenses (attached to one of the five viewers) faces them, then view the cards by looking through the lenses, advancing the cards in that viewer by turning a knob on the front.  Once back at the beginning of the set of cards, they then rotate the table to look into the next viewer and its contents.  The array of viewers will be encased in a façade inspired by the look of the Kaiserpanorama.

I plan to reuse parts from original Victorian viewers in the construction of the new viewers – I have a box of spare parts begging to be put back to work.

An example of a table top, Victorian stereo-viewer on which the design for the PtP multiple viewer is based.

The platform on which the Panorama will be installed will be built from scratch, designed around the dimensions and specifications of a commercial utility trailer, so that it can be towed to and from venues by any suitable road vehicle.  The platform will form an intimate space with the Panorama at one end, while at the other there will be space where those waiting to see the cards can gather. This space will include a bench that doubles as storage for spare parts for the viewers, extra cards, some hand-held viewers (to amuse those patiently waiting) and the propane cylinders for the gas lighting.  Which brings me to the “look”……..

While I do not want to make a facsimile of a Victorian space, it inevitably will be influenced by the period, in acknowledgment of my inspiration and the origins of the viewing technology, and because of my life-long fascination with the era. It will not be “Steampunk”, at least not intentionally, although this will doubtless be suggested by some, which is just fine.  I’m thinking early 20th century circus/sideshow with Victorian remnants peeking out around the edges.  The canopy (providing shade during the day and atmosphere at night) will have Edison-style, LED light bulbs around its lower edge, supplemented at night by custom made gas lights.  Additional LED lighting will be installed on the underside of the low rail that borders the platform, and there may also be lighting on the underneath of the platform itself, forming a pool of light at night.

When on the road between events, the entire super structure will disassemble and pack down onto the platform, come trailer, along with the Puddletown Puller, allowing the entire exhibit to travel.

Some of the details. Thanks to NK Guy (nkguy.com) for the use of one of his images as the photo backdrop.

The Puller:  At big events, such as Burning Man or Maker Faires, I could just use the road towing vehicle to move the platform from location to location, but that would be boring, now wouldn’t it?  So, I’ve dreamt up the Puddletown Puller.  This will be a vehicle, built from scratch around a vintage engine that has been made available by Heath Knapp, who has also offered to be my main metal fabricator and partner in construction.  The design of the puller is based on another historic object, an 1896 “Coventry Motette” in the collections of the Coventry Transport Museum, England.  This brings me to another source of inspiration that was not conscious at first, but seems to have sneaked in as this project has developed and which makes me very happy.

The 1896 “Coventry Motette”, on exhibit at the Coventry Transport Museum.

Coventry is/was the Detroit of Great Britain – a center of car production from the beginnings of automobile manufacture, building on the earlier industry of bicycle making and including motorcycles and all manner of odd vehicles along the way.  My mother’s family is from Coventry and her parents (and many others in her family) were car factory workers; Nana was a seamstress and Grandpa was an upholsterer (if you love Triumph bikes from the 1920s to 1960s, my Grandpa may have had his hands on any of them you look at).  Research into what the Puddletown Puller would look like inevitably lead me to consider historic vehicles from the UK.  I looked at motorcycles, sidecars (I have a photo of my Grandpa in the upholstery shop of the Rudge sidecar factory), cars and all manner of odd looking autos.  While in the UK last month, I visited the Coventry Transport Museum and there I laid eyes on the “Coventry Motette” and fell in love. Thankfully, Heath loves it too.

The Puddletown Puller scale model.

The Builders:  Like so many whimsical creations before it, especially those connected to Burning Man and its citizenry, the PtP will be built by the great maker community here in Portland.  I have been lucky to be part of several such volunteer powered builds. I hope that I can provide another where we can pool our enthusiasm and abilities to create something for many to enjoy, while at the same time teaching each other new skills and discovering our many unrealized talents.

I have been in contact with several of my fellow stereoburners asking them to join in by providing me with examples of their artwork that I will convert into cards to be viewed in the Panorama. I plan to extend this call very soon.  I envisage showings of individual artist’s work in each viewer, changing out artists on a regular basis.  While images of Burning Man related subject matter will be encouraged, especially for the PtP’s inaugural journey to the playa in 2017, it will not be limited to dusty scenes.  I want folks to see all manner of images from realistic to abstract.

The Funding:  I plan on applying for a Black Rock City Honorarium Art Grant, but of course it will take much more than the possible generosity of the Burning Man organization to make the PtP a reality.  To reduce costs I plan on constructing the PtP from donated and recycled parts and materials wherever possible, and I have started to plan for a Kickstarter campaign, or similar to raise what we will need.

Last thoughts….for now.

The Name:  Portland, where I am based and the Panorama will be built, has many nicknames. “Puddletown” is one of them.

The Colour Scheme: – British Racing Green of course, accented with cream and gold.

More soon,

J. Claire Dean

The Puller, all lit up.
Front end of platform showing gathering area and storage bench.
The back of the platform.
Detail of the Panorama, the viewer.