World Wide Panorama gives us pictures of the world

Well, we've made it past the solstice, and for those of us in the northern latitudes, while that may mean that there are still months of snow and cold weather ahead, we will at least have the consolation of knowing that daylight will be lasting for a little bit longer every day. On a less regional basis, this year's winter solstice has also witnessed hundreds of photographers around the world semi-simultaneously recording images into QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) panoramas and submitting them for a global portrait that will be available in January. And the reason that this review is being posted in December? Because, while we wait for results from the latest effort, The World Wide Panorama website already has three collections posted from earlier in the year.

Sponsored by the Geography Computing Facility at the University of California Berkeley, hosted by The Geo-Images Project, and with a genesis that dates back to 1997's A Wrinkle in Time, The World Wide Panorama was launched in March of 2004, and has evolved into a quarterly exercise in capturing theme-based QTVRs on every solstice and equinox.

While the first event was simply a call for images of any subject matter (so long as they were captured on March 20), subsequent collections have had, and will have, themes. June's images concentrated on "World Heritage" sites, September showcased "Bridges," and December's collection (which should be posted January 1st) will consist of panoramas that convey a sense of "Sanctuary."

And given the previous examples, those places of sanctuary will be thematically diverse and geographically widespread. The inaugural shoot involved more than 180 photographers in 40 countries, and included such landmarks as the Pyramids at Giza, the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Lake Kleifarvatn in Iceland, and, as seems only appropriate, the George Eastman House and Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York. June's selection incorporated Angkor Wat in Cambodia, St. Mark's Square in Venice, and the Statue of Liberty.

And while the subject of 'bridges' might not seem all that compelling (and truth be told, some images weren't all that compelling) shots like a nighttime capture of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bridge of the Royal Door in France were well worth the download. (And if you're feeling a bit Hitchcockian, and would like to experience some QTVR-induced vertigo, try loading the suspension bridge of Tanise in Japan, or Colorado's "Royal Gorge Bridge - West Side" and just start dragging your mouse around in large, random arcs.)

Most files are available in two sizes, the smaller (usually under 500k) is embedded into a page and frequently accompanied by comments from the photographer, along with information about the subject site and image capture, and links to related websites when available. The larger files (more than 2MB in some cases) open into their own windows and will fill most screens. (The smaller options not only provide a bit of background about the location, they also make it much easier for surfers with slow connections to 'sample' a panorama before deciding to commit to a full screen download.)

Surfers can explore the collections by various methods. Fans of specific photographers (or those who will be made into fans after viewing some of the QTVRs) can peruse the alphabetical listing of names. Those looking for specific locations can choose a regional index or interactive map, while the more visually oriented can scroll through a photographer-based collection of thumbnails.

Design of the site is basic, with the webmasters letting the panoramas hold center stage. And while I don't know if this represents a deliberate artistic choice or chance, it seemed that most of the files I viewed that had a specific area of interest - such as the Taibei 101 Skyscraper in Taiwan, or Ravenna, Italy's "Bridge of Boats" - either put that point of interest 'behind' the viewer or simply chose an unusual starting point when the image loaded. A nice touch that added an element of discovery to the basic act of viewing the scenery.

Naturally, the chronological restrictions mean that not every photographer could wait for ideal weather conditions for their shots, and with such a large collection of participants, there can't help but be some variation in image quality - but the sheer quantity of images almost guarantees some results that will appeal to most visitors. (And many will doubtless forgive a less than technically perfect panorama if it shows some location close to the home or heart.)

The World Wide Panorama can be found at http://geoimages.berkeley.edu/wwp.html.

And, a quick note since we're nearing the end of December, about a site mentioned at this time last year. If you're a fan of the annual media rituals of reassessment, Fimoculous.com has gathered more than 350 year-end lists from around the web, sorted them into 32 categories and placed them all on a single page.

Along with such standard lists as the best and worst books, music, and movies of 2004, other examples include "The Year In Ideas" from New York Times Magazine, "Words of the Year" from Merriam Webster.com, "The P.U.-litzer Prizes" from AlterNet, the oxymoronic "Five Best Reality TV Finales" from Entertainment Weekly, "Pictures of the Year" from National Geographic, and the "Funniest Commercials of the Year" from TBS.com.

There should be enough there to keep you occupied until the Spring equinox.

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