The Cincinnati Riverfront Panorama of 1848: A Window to the Past at the Main Library
On September 24, 1848, Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter set up their camera on a rooftop in Newport, Kentucky and panned it across the Ohio River capturing on eight separate plates a two-mile span of nation’s sixth largest city, Cincinnati. While Fontayne and Porter knew their project was an ambitious one, they could not have imagined that the Panorama would survive more than 160 years as the oldest comprehensive photograph of an American city, be revered worldwide as one of the finest examples of daguerrean photography, and form the basis for 21st century discoveries about 19th century American life.
The invention of the first practical method of photography, the daguerreotype, by Louis Daguerre was considered a scientific wonder. While expensive and difficult to create, daguerreotypes were noted for their superior level of clarity, exceeding later photographic methods. In 2006, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County contracted with the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film to perform conservation work on the Panorama. As part of the preservation project, state-of-the-art digital microscopy equipment produced digital images from the 1848 Panorama. By combining the clarity of the original object with 21st century technology, the digitally enlarged Panorama revealed previously unseen details of American life including close-ups of river life, the urban landscape, and people at work and play, turning the masterpiece into a virtual time machine.