Vegas 360°: Excerpt

Bally's Hotel/Casino

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From the introduction,
Panoramarino, by Dave Hickey:

Tom Schiff’s panoramic photographs of Las Vegas are a gift to us all: to gamblers, hookers, art lovers, moguls, designers, architects, rubberneckers, looky-loos, and everyone else. Schiff’s panoramas provide us with the ultimate medium through which we may see what Las Vegas really looks like—and get an inkling of why it really works. Schiff’s process might well have been designed to capture the great, visual eccentricity of the Strip—its ambient, floating dazzle of light in space that always eludes ordinary film and photography. The panoramas’ broad sweep solves what photographers call the “color/space” problem—the fact that intense color obliterates photographic space, while self-consciously evocative space tends to suppress the intensity of color. Schiff’s panoramas retain the color and the space.

Schiff’s medium also exploits the “Buckaroo Banzai” principle so well-known in Vegas—the axiom that “wherever you go, there you are”—right in the middle of everything, where everything is designed to defuse your focus on anything in particular, and your camera’s focus, too. That’s the trick: In Vegas, there is nothing to look at and everything to see! This is why Vegas is so comfortable for art critics. The city celebrates the attraction of distraction, the mystery of what’s behind you or right over there. We rove through the lights, the noise, the bells and whistles—the walls disguised with flowers, trees, murals, metal, green-glass castles, boites, bistros, mirrors, waterfalls, and Palladian porticos. We wander across fields of carpet that spread away forever, Aubusson, Oriental, Danish, Turkish, Googie, and everything else. We are nearly always lost and that’s the fun of it. The fun of Tom Schiff’s photographs is that they allow us to orient ourselves just a little. But not too much.

From the Photographer’s Note by Thomas Schiff:

Consider the eyes of a predator, the eyes of a tiger or hawk, say, or for that matter of a human. They are set in the front of the face, perfectly situated for stalking. Good ol’ binocular vision; there’s nothing like it for judging the leap onto the back of a gazelle, the toss of a spear. The predator’s field of vision is narrow, but what need does the predator have for a wide field of vision? He’s not worried about what might be sneaking up on him. Who would dare? The hunted, however, needs those bulging, nervous, liquid brown eyes positioned on the sides of the face, always swiveling, twitching, always on the lookout for danger from all angles at all times

I bring this up—these two disparate visual systems—by way of trying to explain my fascination with panoramic photography. I run an insurance agency, and through grim experience, like all my colleagues in the business, I’ve developed the sensibilities of the hunted. One spends one’s days in the insurance game always on the lookout for trouble, which can come from any angle at any time in a maddening variety of forms: as fire or windstorm, as an automobile accident—some minor, some catastrophic—the grim results of human folly or dumb chance or… I could go on and on, but my point is that the panoramic format is perfectly suited to someone who has learned to be on the lookout, always: that wide field of vision, that expansive, all-encompassing miss-nothing view….

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