The Library Book is a lavish creation of sweeping 360° panoramic photography of U.S. libraries by Thomas R. Schiff and published by Aperture. The book beautifully captures the shifting architectural styles through 120 images from the very earliest American libraries to modernist masterpieces.
The imagery is devoid of people. Schiff in his afterword says, “I usually get to photograph for an hour before the public comes in. The librarians want to preserve the privacy of library patrons, which suits me because I want to picture the library as a space without people.”
Today it is so easy to create digital panoramas by shooting multiple photos and stitching them with software, but not for Schiff. He has decided to conquer this interior landscape of books with a panoramic Hulcherama 120 film camera, which he says, “adds complexity to the business of making the pictures, but I really like the format.”
The Hulcherama 120 is a shutterless, motor-controlled panoramic camera that can rotate in a circle for a full 360-degree image.
Schiff told PetaPixel that he uses the Nikon 28mm PC as well as the Mamiya 28mm, 35mm and 50mm primes on his Hulcherama 120, which he has been experimenting with since the 1980s. The camera takes 120 roll film and he prefers to shoot with 2 negative films: Fujifilm Pro 800Z for indoor shots and Kodak Ektar 100 for outdoors. His usable negative size is 7½ x 2¼” and he usually gets about 3 frames on a roll of film.
“I have a 4-5 year supply of 200 rolls in my freezer,” he says.
“[Hulcherama] offers a different way to look at a building,” Schiff says. “When the camera swings around in a circle, it takes out all the straight lines, of the floor and the ceiling, so that lines you typically see as straight in a conventional photograph—and which are often straightened by professional architectural photographers—appear curved.”
“I use those curves as part of the composition…Unless I have the camera on top of an elevated tripod, I have to walk around the camera while the lens is rotating to avoid appearing in the photograph myself.”
“I do have a digital panoramic camera, but because there isn’t much demand for them, the technology isn’t very developed…But that’s not how I make panoramic pictures,” continues Schiff. “I’ve been using a film camera for so long, I don’t want to change. I like the look of the image you get with film. I’m comfortable with the technology, and the photographs that I shot twenty years ago are consistent with those I shoot today.”
Thomas R. Schiff, who says he was inspired by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White, studied photography under Clarence White, Jr. (son of Clarence H. White) while earning a BBA degree from Ohio University in 1970. Schiff first photographed the Cleveland library in about 1995, and says “the idea of photographing libraries grew on me steadily, as I traveled around, thinking about architecture and public spaces.”
He has published six panoramic photo books: Panoramic Cincinnati (2003), Panoramic Ohio (2002), Panoramic Parks (2005), Vegas 360 (2008), Wright Panorama (2010) and Prospect (2012).
Schiff has some advice for up-and-coming photographers:
“Give a great deal of thought to the photos that you are making and try to develop you own personal sense of vision, because you want to have your photographs stand out, and you want people to identify your photographs having a lot of consistency and similarity from one to another. Try to make photographs that are unique to yourself.”
P.S. Photographer Thibaud Poirier has published a series of photos of Europe’s most spellbinding libraries.
Image credits: Photographs by Thomas R. Schiff and used with permission