Most of these panoramic photographs of bathing beauty contests were taken in Galveston, Texas, Venice Beach, California and Atlantic City, New Jersey in the mid 1920s. They’re part of the Panoramic Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress. In the flesh, these panoramas average between 28 inches and six feet in length, with an average width of ten inches.
The pictures were most likely taken by the Cirkut rotating panoramic camera. Patented by William J. Johnston in 1904, and was manufactured by Rochester Panoramic Camera Company starting in 1905, manufacture of the camera continued through 1949.
In 1905, the company was acquired by the Century Camera Co., which was owned by Eastman Kodak. The catalogue told users:
The Cirkut Panoramic Outfit is in itself a most complete affair, being made up of a camera which can be used in the ordinary manner for plates when desired and a Panoramic Attachment which is easily and quickly attached to the camera, thus converting it into a Panoramic Outfit. The Attachment in itself is much like an ordinary Cartridge Roll Holder in that it is made to use Eastman Daylight-loading Cartridge Film. In addition it contains the mechanism which, when the outfit is in operation, unwinds the film past a slot on a roller and in so doing exposes it and at the same time revolves the camera about on an axis, a special tripod and top being furnished. A pressure on the release is all that is necessary to start the motor — another pressure stops it, thus negatives of any desired length up to 6 feet with the No. 6 and 7 feet with the No. 8 may be made. A complete circle of 360 degrees may thus be photographed if desired. There is an indicator on the top of the Film Holder showing the exact quantity of film exposed and that remaining unexposed. By another very ingenious arrangement one is enabled to determine before exposure is made how long a photograph the view decided on will be.
The Library adds:
When shooting a picture, the Cirkut panoramic camera moves in an arc from left to right. The people in the front row are arranged along a corresponding arc, so that in the finished photograph they will seem to be standing in a straight line.
While under the hood, the photographer focuses the picture. Unlike a 35-millimeter camera, a Cirkut camera has no mirror and prism to reverse the image, and the photographer sees the picture upside-down.
The aperture is “stopped down,” to allow only the proper amount of light into the camera. The back of the camera is loaded with film, and the gears are wound so that when the picture is taken, the roll of film and the camera move in perfect synch.
“I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925
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