Here & There, Now & Then: The Panoramic Narrative


Panoramas, particularly in their photographic form, have seen a recent resurgence as computational photography has made panorama photography and stitching software more readily available to a general audience. In particular, smart phone apps such as Microsoft Photosynth, Autostitch and 360 Panorama make 360° panorama photography easier. This paper explores the convergence of digital panoramic visual practices and digital narratives in what can be called digital panoramic narratives. There is a growing body of electronic literary works that explore panoramic narratives: Roderick Coover’s works Voyage Into the Unknown, Canyonlands, and Something Happened Only Once; What We Will by Giles Perring, James Waite, John Cayley, and Douglas Cape, and my own ongoing work with Michael Joyce and Jay David Bolter in our forthcoming The Surface of Water: Worlds of Anders Zorn, which uses a mobile media AR-browser. In my presentation (and accompanying paper) I want to explore the layered and multimodal points-of-view and spatiotemporal aesthetics that these panoramic narratives have created. What is the literary and aesthetic experience? The desire to “see everything” in a conventional 360° panoramic photograph, often used today for real estate or tourism purposes, is most often thwarted, shifted or exploited in the panoramic narratives. Instead the user experiences a peculiar sense of being “here and there”, “now and then” at the same time. The narratives are experienced from a first-person view, so the user is explicitly drawn into the panorama, placing her at the center, but she is not really in control of what will appear. She is compelled to feel her way around the narrative space one view at a time, either by scrolling, dragging along an image, or in AR-based works, literally move her entire body round to see one section at a time.

Roderick Coover has suggested that digital panoramas are “hybrid[s] that combine elements of the 19th century form of panoramas with aspects of cinema and browsing environments” (“The Digital Panorama and Cinemascapes” In fact, it is clear that the digital panorama, like other digital forms, remediates many different experiences from older as well as contemporary media forms, creating complex multilayered experiences that challenge conventions of literary engagement. The combinations of elements that Coover observed in fact move beyond cinema and browsing environment to include other kinds of media and modes of engagement, including the full-body explorations that mobile augmented reality applications require. The digital panorama narratives that this paper analyzes have in common that they stage combinations, or remediations, of narrative, visual, auditory, and haptic forms into a multisensory experience, which I call polyaesthetic. The paper thus outlines the contours of such polyaesthetic experiences as narrative and aesthetic events.

References (selected):
Coover, Roderick. Canyonlands
---. “Contiguity, Continuity, and Panoramas in Cross-Cultural Represenation” A Digital Panoramic Essay.
---. Something Happened Only Once.
---. “The Digital Panorama and Cinemascapes.” in Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts. Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 199-217.
---. Voyage Into the Unknown.
Engberg, Maria. “Writing on the World: Augmented Reading Environments.” Peter Gendolla and Jörgen Schäfer, eds. Special issue of Sprache und Literatur 108. 42.2 (2011): 67-78.
Oetterman, Stephan. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium. New York: Zone Books.1997.
Perring, Waite, Cayley and Cape et al. What We Will. 2003