Muybridge’s San Francisco Panorama in 1878

San Francisco Panorama, Eadweard Muybridge, 1878

In 1878, Muybridge produced a 360-degree panorama of San Francisco on thirteen 20 x 24-inch (50.8 x 61 cm) mammoth plates. Taken from 116 metres above sea level, the city's highest point at that time, this magnificent panorama presents the seamless, encompassing view of San Francisco’s ‘Golden Era’.

Plate 7 of the San Francisco Panorama

Muybridge started photographing the southwest view used in the first plate in the mid-morning. He exposed each negative for 15 to 25 minutes. It would have taken him four to five hours to complete all thirteen photographs. Working the wet-collodion process with large glass plates at such a pace was a great technical achievement. Muybridge likely had at least one assistant helping him during this process. Interestingly, after taking all the images from plates 1 to 13, Muybridge rephotographed plate 7 for unknown reasons. The direction of the lighting and shades in the image evidence this.

Muybridge trimmed the thirteen plates of albumen silver prints to 16 x 22 inches. He mounted them on paper and backed them on a single sheet of linen to produce an accordion-folded album. When laid out flat, the panorama is around 17.5 feet long (533 cm). Nine copies of this panorama are known to exist. Kingston Museum's copy is the only one held outside of America.

The San Francisco Panorama on display

Plate 3 of the San Francisco Panorama

The panorama illustrates many interesting scenes of social history. The most notable example is the infamous ‘spite fence’ captured in plate 3. Charles Crocker, a railroad tycoon who owned a mansion on California Street Hill, built the three-sided fence around Nicholas Yung’s house after Yung refused to sell it to him.