A panoramic view of photography

David Orbock is in the group show at Bendann

Arts: museums, literature

January 08, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The Bendann Art Galleries in Towson, founded in 1859 by brothers Daniel and David Bendann, is Baltimore's oldest gallery and has long been associated with the fine art of realist figure painting in oils and watercolor.

Yet the Bendanns, who began their careers in Richmond, Va., working in one of the country's first professional photography studios, originally arrived in Baltimore as photographers, doing a brisk business producing portraits and visiting cards for a large clientele.

The gallery's origins in photography are recalled in the luminous panoramic views by Baltimore photographer David Orbock currently on display in the group show there this month. Orbock's exquisite landscapes, cityscapes and mountain views update a venerable 19th-century genre of panoramic travel photography with a decidedly contemporary twist.

By the early 1850s, artist-photographers were already traveling to Italy, Greece and the Middle East to produce pictures of the monuments of antiquity, including the pyramids of Egypt, the Acropolis in Athens and the storied places of the ancient Holy Land. The panoramic camera, which surveys an extremely wide-angle view of its subject, was an important adjunct to their efforts.

One of the earliest panoramic photographs that has been preserved was taken in 1842 by Frederick Von Martens and shows the Pont Neuf in Paris. The picture, recorded as a daguerreotype image on a polished copper plate, encompasses nearly 180 degrees of vision, or more than three times what the human eye can normally take in.

Orbock, a former NASA scientist who now operates a photo color printing business in Baltimore, uses a specialized modern medium-format camera called the Hulcherama, manufactured by the Charles Hulcher Co. in Hampton, Va.

The Hulcherama is equipped with a motor so that, when placed on a tripod, the entire apparatus and its lens rotate through 360 degrees as the film is slowly advanced across a narrow slit inside the camera, producing a long, skinny negative approximately 2 and a quarter inches high by 9 inches wide.

Though this technology dates back to the mid-19th century -- the most widely used models exposed negatives up to 10 inches high and 7 feet wide -- most of Orbock's pictures are created on modern fast color negative or transparency films, many of which are scanned into a computer and downloaded as razor-sharp digital prints.

His eye-popping images of Baltimore's busy Inner Harbor, Washington's Lincoln Memorial or New Mexico's imposing Organ Pipe National Monument have a high-tech clarity coupled with a serene scenic grandeur that celebrates both the places he photographs and the enduring legacy of his predecessors' conception of picture-making on a grand scale.

Bendann is at 834 Kenilworth Drive in the Shops at Kenilworth. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Call 410-825-0585.

For more art events, see page 36.

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