Inspired by Panorama Ray

Inspired by Panorama Ray

Before the passing of my dear friend Panorama Ray in 1997, he created a massive collection of panoramic photos and folk art paintings. He was incredibly prolific, well known to the Atlanta art scene and a friend of President Jimmy Carter. His story is so big that its too much to tell here but this is what I will share for now.

Ray was brilliant. He created a technique with his 100 year old panoramic camera which he coined "movin' stills", where he directed his subjects to move as the camera moved, creating multiple ghost-like images of subjects in one photograph.

Several years ago I co-hosted an art event with Shawn McElroy, the current owner of PR's panoramic camers, showcasing what we could find of Panorama Ray's work, (all lent by owners of his original works). Hundreds of people and friends gathered in a small gallery to remember the legend and his art. After that we tried for a few years to acquire his collection, to preserve and share with the world, but just as we gained the access, our contact, Ray's son died. A real tragedy for the man and the art. After that, Ray's ex-wife made sure that no one would ever see the collection which has never been retrieved. Sadly it is lost forever. 

There were at least 5,000 negatives of panoramic photos in the collection, taken by Ray of iconic Atlanta scenes, artists, musicians and actors from the 1990's, as well as images from around the world which included the great Giza pyramids. Losing his work has truly been a tragedy to Atlanta and to the world. Panorama Ray developed all of his photos in a dark room, and colored a number of them by hand. To this day his technique has not been replicated. 

But the legend is not forgotten. And today I find myself using my iphone to create panoramas of my travels, learning the best ways to create gorgeous imagery through many mistakes. It is very different to create images with an iphone camera than the original panoramic camera because there is no tripod and no timer helping to keep the camera steady or to be able to direct subjects to move according to the movement of the camera. It's a huge learning curve but after two years of experimentation, I am at least getting an idea for how to create some beautiful still imagery.

This post is to share a few of the images that Ray created and also the work I am starting to do myself, inspired by the Legend of Panorama Ray. I am only just getting started but here are some of my favorites from us both. I hope you enjoy them.  

This photo was taken on the rooftop of the Bus Stop, an artist collective run by Mitch Cherry who was another very dear friend of Panorama Ray. Mitch is the male figure on the left and was often a subject of PR's photographs.

Here is Mitch Cherry as his iconic Atlanta character Super Fly, carrying a pretend Olympic torch during the 1996 Olympics. Many of PR's paintings depict fantasy Olympic scenarios. Mitch still has a number of Ray's folk art paintings for sale. 

I am not sure who the model is here but Ray's idea was in creating a Scarlett O'Hara character set against a modern day Atlanta. You can see how the model moves through the photos, directed by Ray who understood the timing and distance the camera needed to be able to create his "movin' stills". The photos were all done with film which, unlike digital, gives no room for retakes. It's a one time shot and every image Ray created was well executed. 

I was another of Panorama Ray's regular models. There were 8 or so images created of me and other characters dressed in the first costumes I ever made, before I moved to New Orleans to pursue a career as a costume artist. This is one version of my Snow Queen, photographed in his little Cabbage Town studio. It was far too cold to be outdoors so we used the space we had as I walked and then crawled across his bed to get the shot. I later learned that the Snow Queen was the last panoramic that PR ever made before his passing. 

I took this photo in Mexico on a beach where two foot waves came right up to our cabanas before crashing on the shore. After numerous takes, I got this shot from the water which is like an optical illusion, appearing as though the wave is about to wash over the whole beach. 

This photo was taken in Jamaica in Flankers neighborhood, a pretty rough area of Montego Bay, where I found myself with a few new friends. The man in the middle is named Changa Changa and is what some have heard Bob Marley refer to as a Natural Mystic. He is one of few true rastas who live the natural lifestyle in Jamaica. 

I have been privileged to be invited to participate in Mayan ceremonies in Guatemala and allowed to photograph some of them. This panorama is taken at the Shrine of St. James during St. James Holy Week. My mentor Dolores sits at the altar on the rightwith the head of shaman of the community, receiving a blessing from St. James. Some of the community medicine people sit around the room, waiting for the Dressing of St. James ceremony to begin. 

Here is an image from my time volunteering with wild macaws in the Peruvian Amazon. It was my job to climb to the tree tops to collect the macaw chicks from their nests, to be sent down by a bucket on a rope and be checked by the vets. You can see here that the bucket is being cradled between my legs, preparing to send them down the 70 feet to the forest floor below. A magical experience indeed! 

This final image, taken in Hierve el Agua, Mexico, shows me looking down at my feet and up over the limestone pools then across the valley. I just wanted to demonstrate here how creative one can get with a panoramic view.

I have many more images but these are a few of my favorites so far. I am excited to keep experimenting and hopefully be able to replicate Panorama Ray's technique for "movin' stills". I will never be as good as the original but one can always aspire. 


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