British photographic history

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Public Unveiling: The Cincinnati Riverfront Panorama of 1848

A special programme celebrating the unveiling of a permanent display of Cincinnati Library’s treasured Cincinnati Riverfront Panorama of 1848  in The Joseph S. Stern, Jr. Cincinnati Room will be held this coming Saturday, 21st May 2011.

As mentioned in an earlier BPH blog, Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter, who worked as partners in a Cincinnati photo gallery from 1847 to 1854, set up their camera on a rooftop in Newport, Kentucky back in September 24, 1848, and panned it across the Ohio River capturing on eight separate plates a two-mile span of the nation’s sixth largest city, Cincinnati.  While Fontayne and Porter knew their project was an ambitious one, they could not have imagined that the Panorama would survive more than 160 years as the oldest comprehensive photograph of an American city, be revered worldwide as one of the finest examples of daguerrean photography, and form the basis for 21st century discoveries about 19th century American life. While expensive and difficult to create, daguerreotypes were noted for their superior level of clarity, exceeding later photographic methods. 

The library acquired the photos — the size of large postcards — in the early 20th century and they have been in storage since 1955 for protection. In 2006, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County contracted the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film to examine, clean, stabilise and perform conservation work on the Panorama.  As part of the preservation project, state-of-the-art digital microscopy equipment produced digital images from the 1848 Panorama.

This programme for the day, which takes place in the Main Library’s Atrium, will include discussions on the provenance and care of the daguerreotype, as well as explaining how 21st century technology assisted with the conservation process.

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