Kingsport: Taking a Wide View

The latest exhibit from the Archives of the City of Kingsport provides a wonderful way to see how early Kingsport embraced panoramic photography and to examine how its people used this advancement in photography to celebrate milestones, document the town’s progress, and record history.

In addition to all that we can learn and remember by studying these beautiful photographs from the archives collection, they are just fun!

Eleven images are on display and cover the years from 1917-1949.

Shortly after photography came into use in 1839, photographers began to find ways to respond to the need for panoramic views of cities and landscapes. Starting in the 1850s, this was first achieved by piecing Daguerreotype images side-by-side. The Library of Congress’ earliest panoramic images were taken during the Civil War to aid the Union Army in building defensive positions. The Smithsonian Institution houses an 1886 4-panel panorama of Washington, D.C. by noted photographer William Henry Jackson.

American landscape photographer George E. Mellen even wrote a how-to book about it in 1897 called Panoramic photography; or, How to make two or more adjoining negatives and print all on one sheet of paper without showing the joining line. You have to love that title but it points to how popular this medium was.

Three examples of this technique are in the exhibit.

Above: 3 panels from a 6-panel 1917 panorama of downtown Kingsport. (R L Reams Collection)

Beginning in 1898, cameras were invented with lenses that could capture a wide format without piecing; cameras like the “Al-Vista,” the Kodak “Panoram,” and the Conley “Panoramic.” There are 8 examples of this technique in the exhibit, including this charming Dobyns-Bennett school portrait.

Students and faculty of Dobyns-Bennett High School, 1926-27. (KCMC 265)
I always learn so much from preparing exhibits, and not just from the research, either. By comparing the contents of different collections, I gain a better understanding of an era or event. By studying individual photographs under the scanner, I notice all kinds of details that fill in gaps of what I thought I knew.

For example, the photo above of DB exists in at least 4 different collections. Because I looked at all of them and didn’t just choose the first one I came across, I learned that the photographer printed more than one pose that day. They are similar, but they are not the same.

The photograph below (KCMC 448) is kind of a mystery. It was found in the archives without a case file or provenance data. But, the 2-panel image was printed on book cloth and the back says “W.F. Smith” in pencil. He was a former vice president and president of the Kingsport Press.

Panorama of Kingsport industry from the west, undated. (KCMC 448)
When we enlarged the photo, we realized that the archives does not have another image taken from this position and from this era. What makes it unique is that one can see Church Circle, Penn Dixie, Kingsport Press, Kingsport Pulp, the old Tudor-style town hall, the Homestead Hotel, the Kingsport Inn, and Kingsport Hosiery all in one photograph! Of course, it was the panorama phenomenon that made this possible.

First Baptist Church Sunday school, January 1932. (KCMC 261)
This image from Church Circle is interesting because the specifics of the occasion were written right onto the photograph. If you had relatives who attended First Baptist in the 1930s, you should definitely come to see it. Look at the old First Presbyterian Church to the right. This is when they were still using the old Kingsport Public School.

Come to the library before March 24, 2018 to see the exhibit on the main floor of the Kingsport Public Library. You’ll be seeing thousands of faces, visiting historic times, and taking a wider view.

History of Panoramic Photography: Library of Congress

Feature image: A segment from the panoramic of Kingsport Press employees, 1932.

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