Smile for the Camera!

The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley is getting its picture taken! On Monday Jean-Paul Torno, a freelance photographer who has worked with the Saint Louis Art Museum for over a decade, transformed the special exhibition gallery into a temporary photo studio. Using a high-definition mounted camera, he photographs each scene in the panorama one by one, a process that will take two full days (the second day will be August 27).

Jean-Paul Torno sets up the camera that will photograph an entire scene of the panorama. Cathryn Gowan (left) and Shannon Sweeney (right) work on a computer behind him.

After Jean-Paul takes each photo, the images are loaded into a computer manned by Cathryn Gowan, the Saint Louis Art Museum’s digital imaging specialist. She checks that the color and lighting are accurate, adjusting where necessary. Shannon Sweeney, photography and image rights manager, makes sure that the images match the requests of the curators and registrars. A program automatically stitches two sequential scenes together, forming one continuous image. Once all 25 scenes have been photographed, it will create a digital version of the entire 358 foot painting.

Cathryn Gowan edits images taken just minutes before.

It takes a little over half an hour to photograph each scene. The actual photographing process is quick, taking anywhere from five to fifteen minutes depending on how many detail shots need to be taken. The most time-consuming part is switching from scene to scene; the mechanism displaying the panorama must be slowly lowered, the conservators and art handlers gently roll the next scene into view, and finally the mechanism raises the panorama to a vertical position. Because of the great care that must be taken with the fragile painting, this process takes over twenty minutes.

After the photography session, Jean-Paul removed all of the photography equipment, so the gallery is back to normal for Museum visitors.

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