At the turn of the twentieth century, photographic technology and an American culture of optimism and self-celebration combined to create what Luc Sante calls the 'strange and compelling medium' of panoramic group photography. Organizations famed and obscure--from the Anti-Saloon League of America and the troops at Camp Sevier during the Great War to the members of the Midget Swing Review--commissioned photographers to produce images that sometimes encompassed a full 360 degrees. No public event--a circus, a train wreck, or the Army-Navy football game--was too grand or eccentric to deserve its own wide-angle commemoration. The photographs compose a portrait of a society on the cusp of sweeping change, as their details preserve the enduring humanity of their subjects: a bathing beauty tosses her curls; a group of cross-dressing women smile enigmatically at an off-camera friend; children at play on a summertime lawn appear only as blurs behind an Ohio town meeting. The Big Picture gathers nearly one hundred of these fascinating images, most never before published, bringing the shared experience of American history from the late nineteenth century to the WWII era to life.
Josh Sapan is the CEO of Rainbow Media, operator of the cable channels AMC, WE tv, IFC Films, and the Sundance Channel