Make My Pano now

Pano is an iPhone app. It stitches together the photos you take to make fantastically compelling panoramas. I’ve developed an unhealthy obsession with Pano and a lot of the pics I upload to my Flickr stream are now Panos. They’re fascinating and uncanny and I’ve been wondering what actually happens when you make a panorama using Pano. Four things happen when you click ‘Make my Pano Now’:

This accounts for the uncanniness – it’s a different time at one end than it is at the other. And this, of course, introduces the possibility of paradoxes, multiple-appearances, overlaps, vanishings and other freaky occurrences. A Pano is a flattened-out movie where everything goes a bit sci-fi.

Smearing the picture across time and space busts up the classical emphasis on a single event at a single time. There’s no decisive moment, no ‘punctum‘. It’s not a 30th of a second behind the Gare St-Lazare. It’s a messy collision of moments and locations glued together to make a sort of story.

Favoured by 18th Century history painters and egomaniacs, tableaux are paintings – big, immersive, utterly artificial pictorial confections – set in an idealised location – a timeless glade, a battlefield, a classical ruin. The eye wanders in the scene, taking in the action in several distinct sub-scenes (the robed elders over by the ruin, the nymphs in the foreground, the stricken hero in the middle…). And there’s something frozen, ponderous and monolithic about a tableau. I’m not comparing my iPhone snaps to the work of the greats but I’m intrigued by the correspondences between those epic works and the mini-tableau in my phone. There’s something about their artificiality. Unremarkable scenes take on a spooky monumentality – a meeting or a street scene or a party, frozen for eternity.

Pano tries to stitch pics together so you can’t see the join but only very boring scenes – landscapes from a uniform distance, for instance – can be stitched thus. In fact, interesting Panos are shot from slightly too close and with elements at varying distances from the lens or at an angle that makes it impossible to knit the elements together properly. And the result is a messy, discontinuous whole. The best Panos are a bit off, slightly wonky – a bit gothic – and because the eye naturally makes a big effort not to see the joins – seeking integrity where it doesn’t exist – they produce a kind of unease, an uncomfortable feeling that something is wrong. And that’s their charm.

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