Saturday, July 16, 2011

Name That Audience 6

What are these people looking at?

They are guests at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, standing atop the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building and looking down at the extraordinary "White City" created for the fair. (The photo is from the Chicago Public Library Special Collection Division). Looking was very much a part of the 19th century exposition experience--the White City housed endless exhibits and demonstrations of America's cultural and technological progress--but looking from such a height was a decided sensation for the time. Famed Chicago architects Burnham and Root had perfected the means to build higher and higher buildings on Chicago's unstable soil, but few Americans had ever set foot in a skyscaper. (Hot air balloons were another option, but they were equally unaccessible to most people). The rooftop walkway on the Manufactures building, as well as the Exposition's celebrated Ferris Wheel (the original!), enabled some people to have, literally, a new perspective of the landscape.

The Exposition's Ferris Wheel
From the Ferris Wheel Looking East, Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection
The strange awe people felt looking down was similar, actually, to what many Americans felt upon first experiencing the blurred landscape from a moving train, an "annihilation of time and space" that had been new and exciting several decades before. As Rebecca Solnit has brilliantly discussed, the recreation of seeing--and the recreative re-creation of seeing--would reach full flower in the motion picture, which was being developed by Edweard Muybridge, Thomas Edison, and others right around the time of the fair. Fascinatingly, before images moved, people did.

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