Eadweard Muybridge

Panorama of San Francisco

Kingston Museum possesses one of only nine of these panorama of the great city taken by Muybridge in April 1878. Muybridge worked with a mammoth camera using 18 x 22 inch plates and the resulting work is both artistically and technically well defined. It also provides a primary source of pictorial information about the city before the earthquake and fire of 1906, which destroyed many of the buildings on show in this panorama.

How it was taken

Muybridge started at about 11am and, probably with the help of an assistant, made each section within a matter of 15 minutes. The seventh panel from the left was taken last; it is a second shot of a section that was not successful on the first try. He used a 40 inch near telephoto lens, which determined the number of 20 inch wide glass negatives needed to make the complete circle. He had chosen the day for the execution of the panorama carefully; the shadows are sharp and the atmosphere clear.

Panoramic views resulted naturally following the discovery of photography. Muybridge photographed the full sweep of San Francisco from the tower of Hopkins House, 400 feet above the bay. This was his third magnum-opus; earlier in 1878 a fire had destroyed the negatives of the previous two panorama taken in 1877.

The seventh panel

Another point of interest in this Panorama is the seventh panel in the piece. Panel 7 was the last shot taken in the sequence and was a repeat of a previous unsuccessful shot. Muybridge began work at 11am when the sun was nearly overhead and the shadows were short. This can be seen in Panel 6 with the chimney in the foreground. Compare this shadow with the length and direction of the shadow of the chimney in the foreground of Panel 7. The sun had obviously moved round by several hours. Panel 7 also shows a much greater range of contrast and therefore more apparent detail than Panel 6.

The spite fence

The 'spite fence' was a famous landmark in the history of the city. A Nob Hill property owner and railway baron, Charles Crocker, had built a huge fence around the modest residence of a German undertaker called Nicolas Yung, in order to spoil his view in the hope that he would sell his property.  

Only the chimneys are visible in Muybridge's picture. The fence is so high that supporting buttresses had to be used and it wasn't pulled down until Crocker purchased the property after Yung's death.