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Extract

The Long View: Istanbul frozen in time

Five centuries of Istanbul views: images that have shown us how to see and love the city

Istanbul As Far As the Eye Can See
Sven Becker, Zeynep Çelik, Briony Llewellyn, Bahattin Öztuncay, Claude Piening

YKY


  • The key to Henry Aston Barker’s immersive 360-degree view of Istanbul based on eight paintings (overleaf). In 1801 his father, Robert, hung them in a circular pavilion off Leicester Square. Visitors would stand in the centre and slowly turn to admire the seamless view (courtesy of the Ömer M Koç Collection)

In 1787, when the Scottish painter Robert Barker presented the first “panorama”, a semi-circular view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill, he was taking the first step on the road towards whatwe know today as virtual reality. Barker’s innovation was a concept of his own creation, for which he would receive a patent,  and which would allow viewers to inhabit a painting, so that “an observer turning quite round” would see an unbroken view of a city. After displaying this work in Edinburgh, in 1789 he exhibited it in London, and, while creating a full 360-degree London panorama, commissioned a three-storey rotunda off Leicester Square, with viewing chambers where his panoramas would provide spectators with an immersive experience.

Paying the high price of three shillings each to enter, the observers would make their way down a dark corridor before entering a room where props were so arranged, and the canvas so seamlessly positioned, as to create the effect of “wholeness” and to place them “on the spot”, earning Barker a fortune and sparking a craze across London for similar vistas. The first panorama of a foreign city to be installed here was painted by Barker’s son Henry Aston Barker, and presented in 1801. The cleverly lit view, which the young Barker had carefully painted over a period of months in Constantinople in 1799, was more than simply a linear or narrative representation. It was an attempt to allow visitors to inhabit and explore a painstaking portrayal of the city’s neighbourhoods, with details such as ropemaking and other elements of daily life presented as at once familiar and strange.

The Barker panoramas, with their sleight of hand and clever staging, were by their nature illusory. They made a claim to represent reality, but in a way that was theatrical and entertaining. His work sat among the many innovations of his time that would lead eventually to the birth of the camera and cinema, both of which in turn absorbed the logic of the panorama. Like today’s virtual-reality technologies, the project sat somewhere between entertainment and documentary – a more accurate version of reality than painting, but one laden with excitement. Remarkably, the circular interiors survive to this day, within the 1950s church of Notre Dame de France, with three drawings by Jean Cocteau in the Lady Chapel…

To read the full article, purchase Issue 66

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Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
£15.00 / $18.96 / €17.51
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 66
  • The Treasured Shell

    Since the 1940s time has stood still under the pines and palms of this modest Art Deco villa on Istanbul’s Marmara shore. Berrin Torolsan meets Suna Erbil Demirağ, who has fiercely protected it as a tribute to her pioneering father, who carved out a thousand kilometres of Turkey’s railways before building this much-loved haven. Photographs by Monica Fritz

  • The Season Ticket

    In the dead of winter, the photographer and filmmaker Annette Louise Solakoğlu takes the long, slow train journey east from Ankara to the borderland where Turkey meets Armenia and Georgia, scanning the frozen vastness of the north Anatolian landscape


  • Don McCullin’s Wars and Peace

    The great photojournalist Don McCullin talks to Maureen Freely of the darkness and light that have marked his life and his searingly truthful work


Good places to stay
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Issue 66, December 2023 Turkey’s Centenary Issue
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