Victor Albert Prout, photographer
Panoramas of the Thames
Room 8c, level 0
Turning his back on the industrious face of the river in London and downstream, Prout concentrates on its most bucolic and timeless stretch, that of quiet villages and royal residences. Through the variety of viewpoints and the skilful balance of the compositions, topographical monotony becomes harmony. While it perpetuates a traditional, picturesque and romantic vision of the Thames, this exploration of the changing relationship of a river to its environment is nonetheless one of the great early achievements in the field of panoramic landscape.
The absolute horizontality of the river landscape makes it an ideal subject for panoramic photography. Prout’s preference for this format, in continuity with his father’s speciality as a landscape painter, involved a sophisticated camera with a pivoting lens, custom-made for the photographer (who formalised his research in 1865 with a patent improving panoramic cameras).
Obliged to prepare and develop his collodion glass negatives in situ, Prout converted a boat into a darkroom. This floating laboratory is sometimes made visible in the midst of the images. The views are also often populated by one or two same and recognisable people representing the burgeoning taste of urban populations for water sports. In this lack of illusion lies the discreet originality of the series conceived by Prout. The motionless viewer is invited to journey upstream in the company of the artist and his assistants, the recurring details accentuating the narrative dimension of this photographic tour through time and space.