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Artist of the Month - November 2002

Cliff Crutchfield: Panoramic
by Sydney Francis

Cliff CrutchfieldAfter meeting personally with Cliff Crutchfield I spent several hours on his website looking at each of his panoramic images carefully. On his website, Crutchfield displays his "navigable" interiors using QuickTime VR, which allow the viewer to take a virtual tour through 3-dimensional space, with his gallery of landscape panoramas, which I will concentrate on in this article.

With 30 years of experience in commercial photography, Crutchfield discovered a photographic art that appeals both to his aesthetic sense and his interest in computer graphic technology- navigable panoramas. He uses two different types of panoramic camera: a Panoscan camera system, using a tri-linear CCD scanner, and a Seitz Roundshot 28/220, which uses panoramic film. Crutchfield admitted to me he is not specifically interested in landscape photography, but rather he is definitely interested in the panoramic format and the computer technology which extends the capabilities of this medium into virtual space. He does, however, also appear to have an affinity for the spectacular local landscape, of which he has a singular means of capturing its awesomeness.

Crutchfield has a sense of what makes a panoramic image effective, which requires an understanding of how a 360 degree view is going to look on a flat rectangular panel. Choosing the sight for a panoramic image is very precise; it requires that Crutchfield be aware of the distances of objects in all directions and have an understanding of the visual vertical and horizontal elements. With a panoramic camera, the viewer and camera are at the center point of a circular view, in which the foreground elements are equidistant from that center point of view. Thus, in one sense, the camera captures a panoramic view which is at a certain radial distance from the center. Similar to a landscape photograph, the visual continuity of the resulting image is contingent upon the elements of light/shadow, form,composition and color. Using a 360 degree panoramic format, however, requires an additional aesthetic understanding, because the photographer has to predict what a curved or cylindrical space will look like in a flat format.
I went to the Grand Canyon in June and used the panoramic setting on my camera to capture what I thought was a spectacular 180 degree view.

To my dismay, my pictures came back as flat, washed out, and visually uninteresting. In contrast, it is obvious in Crutchfield's case that his panoramic images are successful, as they are vibrant, engaging, balanced, and rhythmic.

To have a sense of the 360 degree visual, take a moment to visualize the space you are sitting in. Stay in the same spot and turn in a circle, looking at what surrounds you and what the distance of various objects is in relation to your point of view. Try to imagine the space which encircles you as layed out flat out in front of you, considering the resulting "distortion" of objects and space.

I attempted to do the opposite as I looked at Crutchfield's panoramic imagery: I visualized myself at the center of his images with the landscape surrounding me. The work entitled "Virgin Gorda" especially captivated me, as I tried to make visual sense of the curvature of the sand, the sources of light and shadow, and the movement of the beach scape. I had some intellectual insights into this process, yet emotionally I found Crutchfield's panoramas to be very compelling. Even before I tried to "figure out" the space, I felt that looking at these panoramas evoked a process, rather than a static experience, which allowed me (the viewer) to develop an intimate relationship with his images.

As a teacher of drawing and painting, I wanted to understand how these images could be at once full of depth, but also "distorted" and visually defiant. For the sake of example, I will read "Goblin Valley" from left to right. On the left-most side of the image you will note that the shadows are to the left of the hoodoos and the highlights are on the right. Then just to the right, you can see the sun in front of your field of view, which makes the shadows on the hoodoos directly facing the viewer. Towards the center of the image, the shadows are on the right side of the hoodoos. As you continue to move right past the center you will notice a patch of saturated light on the middle ground; this highlight area visually indicates that the source of light is directly behind you. And as you hit the far right of the image the shadows are again on the left of the hoodoos, closing the visual circle of view. Each piece of this image has depth in and of itself as the lights and shadows are continuous; but as a whole, a visual illusion takes place as the lights and shadows curve in front of you because of the apparently "shifting" light source.

In addition to this fascinating illusionary effect, the visual movement of the light and shadow in the complete 360 degree view expresses rhythm and harmony in the composition of the image. In "Goblin Valley" the eye reads the rhythm by the repitition dark, light, dark, light pattern created throughout the image. There is an underlying unity to image, as well, which may be due to the fact that the image shows the entire circular field of view. And although, it is not immediately obvious one can intuitively sense that the image is somehow complete (as is a closed circle).

Although, quiet, patient,and reserved, I found Crutchfield to have an active, curious and passionate mind. It is apparent in both his work and manner he is thoughtful and insightful. And, like his Panoscan camera system, he steadily and centeredly takes in his surroundings in an exquisite state of "being there".

Cliff Crutchfield will be having a exhibit of his landscape panoramas at the Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City, from October 11th to November 8th. You can view his work on-line at

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