spaces specifically, in a different way than
what they’re used to. [The panoramic format]
allows them to see the whole building and
the whole space all at once. It’s a new way,
a different way of looking at things, and my
hope is that people will be amazed by that.”
Working with the panoramic camera is
something of a signature for Schiff. He’s done
so for 20 years, and he still shoots 120 or 220
roll film. A lot of photographers who work
with panoramic cameras tend to photograph
landscapes, he notes, whereas he’s doing
something “a little bit different” by focusing
on architecture and interiors.
When Schiff arrives at a location, he
looks for a position at or near the center of
a room. Because he uses a wide-angle lens,
The panoramic camera format distorts the
straight lines. “I’ll try to have the camera
placed in the location where I’ll have some
of the building lines close to the top of the
frame and then some on the bottom,” Schiff
explains. He is simply searching for “the
most pleasing composition,” he says.
Despite his seemingly humble aims, Schiff’s
skill in using the panoramic camera to interpret
architectural detail is evident from the features
he emphasizes with his camera placement.
A concrete column at the center of his image
of the Marcel Breuer-designed Alcuin Library
at Minnesota’s Saint John’s University seems to
prop up the entire structure. His photograph at
the Beaux-Arts Handley Library in Winchester,
Virginia, turns a spiraling staircase into a series
of graphic, sweeping lines.
Beyond esthetics, Schiff’s matter-of-fact
approach leaves a great deal to his viewer.
While marveling at the architecture, the
shelves, the library ladders, the murals, artwork
and stained glass, we might also search for
meaning in the physical manifestations of the
intellectual ambitions of different individuals
OPPOSI TE: “Lincoln Public Library, Illinois,” 2009. ABOVE: “Herb Caen Magazines and Newspapers Center, San Francisco Public Library,” 2010. BELOW: “George Peabody
Library, Baltimore,” 2010. Thomas R. Schiff spent more than a decade making wide angle, 360-degree views of American libraries.